Poem for October: Praise Song for the Day

Praise Song for the Day
Elizabeth Alexander

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 preempt 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.

I chose this poem for October because it was the poem read at Barack Obama’s inauguration. I wasn’t enchanted when the poet read it that day, but when I read it on my own I really liked it. In a political season with words more declaimed than whispered and more spiny than smooth, I felt like this was a poem to commit to memory.

The past two political years haven’t turned out as I would have chosen. I would like to see more compromise–and not just by Democrats sliding ever close to the Republicans‘ positions while the Republicans refuse to move. I would like to see elections that cannot be bought by a few and I would like to see a political process that finds commonalities in our population, instead of pitting us against one another. This election cycle I saw a lot of “you have something that I don’t have (pension, decent health care, etc.) and because I don’t have it, you shouldn’t either.” I would like us to work towards, “how can we get everyone to have something good?” I know there is a lot more figuring it out at the kitchen tables and it makes me tired. This poem, celebrating a “sharp sparkle” and the idea that “any thing can be made” is a bit of a buoy in this acrimonious, bought and paid for, rude and grabby time.

One thought on “Poem for October: Praise Song for the Day”

  1. I really like it a lot. Great choice. I feel like I want to leave this country sometimes when I contemplate the politics. You should hear my dad and I getting going. Sheesh! When did I get strident!?!?!

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