The whole idea of having a poet read a poem to the nation is thrilling to me. Elizabeth Alexander's poem is beautiful, but I thought her placement in the ceremony after The Man was next to impossible. Here it is, though, to savor:
Praise Song for the Day
we go about our business,
walking past each other,
catching each other's eyes,
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, 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
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.