"When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. When power leads man toward his arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations." - John F. Kennedy
Last Tuesday I joined about 15 others from my office in the trading room, where we bumped the stock numbers aside to join billions of people worldwide - to witness something miraculous take place.
We passed out kleenex and burst into applause when the magical words were spoken.
I had to fight tears one more time as Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander read her inaugural poem. When she got to the line, What if the mightiest word was love? - tears filled my eyes and a painful hope swelled in my heart.
Here is the transcribed text of her poem, which I've arranged in the form in which it presented itself to me, as I heard it. No doubt she has it arranged differently.
Don't forget to ride the Poetry Train! Enjoy.
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.
We encounter each other in words,
Words spiny or smooth,
Whispered or declaimed,
Words to consider,
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,
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.
- Elizabeth Alexander, 2009