These days I am drawn to poetry. Not sure why. I crave something unknown or unspoken. Reading and searching. Pencil and notebook always near.
On this journey to who knows where, I listened to an On Being podcast with host, Krista Tippett interviewing the poet, Elizabeth Alexander. As with all of Krista’s interviews I am mesmerized … a master class on interviewing and diving deep into language and shared meaning.
Krista, sharing her thoughts on poetry, stopped me cold choosing words that described my being. “I have to feel strong enough or destroyed enough to take in poetry.” I recognize myself in these words. I feel no middle, only the ends of me, strength and destruction. A place where poetry lights a way back to center.
Maybe an odd post for a Fourth of July holiday. Or maybe not. Our Country is torn and in need of truth-telling poets. America has a rich history of poets. Yesterday’s poets still have a voice through their words, sharing wisdom so often ignored. Today’s poets find voice through Poetry Slam competitions; adding performance to voice allowing words to sing out truth.
On this Fourth of July let me be one to focus on poetry in America. A hope for our future.
As I circle back to the poetry of Elizabeth Alexander, I go to her poem, “Praise Song for the Day”. Or the more complete title, “Praise Song for the Day, A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration”.
And there the wall goes up for many of you, my fellow Americans. We focus so hard on our differences and not our shared interests. The ends of me, strength and destruction, fade away as I read this poem. I crave shared meaning for us all. I desire to walk into that light.
America, let’s cast that widening pool of light and be a Nation Indivisible.
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.