Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Poem


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.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks for putting this on your blog. It's a beautiful poem. What a gift to be able to write like this.

  2. Reading the poem, I'm even more impressed than when I heard it. It not only captures the moment, it captures what went into the making of the moment.

  3. I love that poem. I couldn't take it in as she was reading it out loud, but when I read it to myself it sings beautifully.

  4. Stranded in travel yesterday, I missed every bit of inaugural day coverage. Thus I knew nothing about this poem until I saw it here. Unfamiliar with this poet, I Googled her name and up popped a list of comments highly critical of the poem being used as part of the inaugural ceremonies. But I ignored them. I like it very much and am going to print out a copy--or better yet, transcribe it by hand the better to savor the words. Thank you so much for posting it, T.