The Day Was the Poem
Air and Simple Gifts is a classical quartet by American composer John Williams composed for the January 20, 2009, inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
The Day Was The Poem
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be –
Shaker Song “Simple Gifts”
On an estatic, cold January day, two million people,
and the world witnessed Barack Obama become president
of the United States of America, words, songs, public text —
a choreography of hope.
“. . . we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”
“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.”
“. . . we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
This president, who sent me an email right before the Iowa
speech saying, simply — “Turn on your television,”
orchestrates media, image, music, icon, tableau,
public document, history —
the way an artist uses line or color, brush stroke, dream, idea,
rhythm, to create images able to change hearts and minds,
heal the world —
Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma, Senators, everybody.
America parades down Constitution Avenue—
parkas and warm hats, all of us,
high school, college marching bands, drill teams, flags,
horse brigades, gymnasts — one startling afternoon
in January, golden light.
A tall, brilliant man walking down the street,
a brilliant woman walking beside him.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
O happy day.
©Susan Bright, 2009
Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.
* You can read the text of Barack Obama's Inaugural Speech here.
*Here is the Inaugural Poem, by Elizabeth Alexander, posted by
Poets & Writers.
Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
by Elizabeth Alexander
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.
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