Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise song for the day

The following is Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day” as transcribed by Federal News Service.

Praise song for the day.

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 someone
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

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made,
any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise
song for walking forward in that light.

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