wider than one
natives in their
Archive for January, 2009
As I listened to Elizabeth Alexander’s poem today, I heard echoes of Maya Angelou’s poem from Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. Alexander’s line, “On the brink, on the brim on the cusp” reminds me of Angelou’s line, “On the pulse of this new day.”
Both poets were aware this needed to be a poem about beginnings. They were aware of other things too. So little poetry is ever heard in our country, the poem needed to be something that would speak to the masses. It needed to be simple and forthright, words people could grasp quickly, that had the flow and rhythm of our American speech.
My favorite lines in the poem are, “Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, the figuring it out at kitchen tables.” She addresses what words are here, what language is, how words change the way we think and eventually change the way a country thinks.
We encounter each other in words,
words spiny or smooth,
whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
What are words of the masses? They are the words painted on the signs carried to the inauguration. The figuring it out at kitchen tables speaks to families, friends and neighbors working together to come up with language, poetry of their own to hold up for the world to see.
Praise Song for the Day
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and den, 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.”
A Poem for Nelson Mandela
Here where I live it is Sunday.
From my room I hear black
children playing between houses
and the El at a Sabbath rattle.
I smell barbecue from every direction
and hear black hands tolling church bells,
hear wind hissing through elm trees
through dry grasses
As you all know, tonight is the night of the full
moon, half the world over. But here the moon
seems to hang motionless in the sky. It gives very
little light; it could be dead. Visibility is poor.
Nevertheless, we shall try to give you some idea of
the lay of the land and the present situation.
The escarpment that rises abruptly from the central
plain is in heavy shadow, but the elaborate terrac-
ing of its southern glacis gleams faintly in the dim
light, like fish scales. What endless labor those
small, peculiarly shaped terraces represent! And
yet, on them the welfare of this tiny principality
You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.
Sea of stretch’d ground-swells,
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell’d yet always-ready graves,
Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.
The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs’ eyes followed him, a cheerful stare–
even to the sow that always ate her young–
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.
Man-Moth: Newspaper misprint for “mammoth.”
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.