20 January 2009

poem for the inauguration

Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander

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, boombox, 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 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
Anything can be made
Any sentence begun
On the brink
On the brim
On the cusp
Praise song for walking forward in that light

Read by Elizabeth Alexander at the inauguration of President Obama, 20 January 2009. I transcribed this from her reading and have no formal permission to post it, but hope you will excuse me, because I think the poem is beautiful and wanted to share it.

General note: The criteria for every piece of correspondence I write has always been: Is it kind/true/necessary? If it doesn't fulfill all three, I don't send it, or I rework it. From now on, I will apply the same criteria to any comments submitted for posting to this blog. Thanks.


  1. Anonymous11:03 AM

    That poem, and the way she read it, was perfection. So appropriate for the day.

    Jared, is that your home in your header photo? If that's Pleasant Hill, it's just simply wonderful. What a cozy spot.

  2. A beautiful poem for a beautiful day! Yes we can!