What if the mightiest word is love?

Praise Song for the Day by 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 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.

This is probably a deeply unpopular opinion, given what I saw on Facebook on Tuesday, but I liked the poem that Elizabeth Alexander read at the inauguration. I didn’t like her delivery of it – I don’t know if she was nervous or freaked out or if she is even a good public speaker under normal circumstances. But I liked the poem itself, despite her delivery. I like the ideas that she based the poem around: building upon the foundation that the people before us have sacrificed to create, and coming together in love and seeing our common humanity as we take this opportunity to move forward. There were a lot of little phrases I liked, especially “the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.” But my favorite part is the last stanza. It’s why I wanted to watch the inauguration with my students, because I have seen a bit of that in their eyes since November 4th: “Anything can be made . . . on the brink, on the brim, on the cusp.” President Obama is just a man, and he is ultimately going to succeed and disappoint as humans do. What I have seen so many of my students connect with is the possibility of something new and different, and I hope that idea stays with them, no matter what happens in the coming years.

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