Where were you?

Where were you when the world gained hope and beamed with pride?

Yesterday, during the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama, I was in an airport terminal, huddled around a small tv with low volume and a cutting glare. A small band of us were waiting for a plane but fixed to the image of a man, and a moment, who made history while easing us from a painful past.

The concourse was hushed as the 44th president took the oath and addressed the crowd in a speech that carried the power of poetry.

The flight was on time and I rushed my way to a window seat, missing Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural Poem. Did you catch it? Did the words sing to you?

Alexander is just the fourth poet to read at a presidential inauguration, and she joins poets Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams. That Obama chose to include poetry on the momentous day speaks of a man, and a leader, who values the arts and the creative inspiration words can bring.

Praise Song for the Day

Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

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.