Friday, February 13, 2009

What an Inagural Poem SHOULD Look and Sound Like

I know President Obama was inaugurated about a month ago but I’m still reeling from the Inaugural poem. Elizabeth Alexander’s Inaugural poem was an utter disappointment. On a day of historic change, I expected words that would inspire and bolster a people. I expected a poem that was artistic yet accessible and I got neither. The language was dull, the theme: hackneyed, the delivery: poor and robotic (and that’s putting it lightly). I do not desire to dwell on it any further (but I will include a link below so you can read a scathing review). Below I’ve posted an example of what an Inaugural poem should look like. On The Pulse of The Morning, was written and delivered by Maya Angelou for President Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration.

On The Pulse Of Morning

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.
The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers--desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours--your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning
link to Alexander's Poem:
link to a Review of Alexander's Poem:
link to analysis of Angelous's Masterpiece:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Taken is epic. You would do well to see it. You would also do well to see it at Cinema Village. It's an old timey theatre with ornate gold molding, thick velvet curtains, balconies...the works.

Ms. White

I remember when every strand of her hair was entangled in a thick lock that hung down her back. She didn’t just throw away the bras that lifted her breasts and the stains that made her lips shine and her eyes “pop”. Along with the crop tops and the curve accentuating denim, she had denounced basic hygiene like washing and conditioning her hair. She said it was so that she’d garner respect for her intellect and because she wanted people to gravitate toward her for her winning character, impeccable musical taste, well thought out advice, blah, blah, blah. I remember gravely setting about the task of emancipating the strands from their dense and dirty prison. Equipped with rat tail combs and safety scissors, we gently pried pieces from the whole. As we did so, as that singular entity was separated into so many dark, twisting lines, my mind wandered off and the tools in our hands shifted shape

I held a mirror while she swept a whiskered brush across her cheek- adding coral coloring to her already flushed face. I held it while she lined her lips with gloss and sprayed strands of her hair until they lost all will to fly away. I helped close the jeans she insisted on squeezing into and I helped lace the shoes she couldn’t walk in. And when her face was put on and her body sufficiently costumed, we walked to the house.

A gaudy chandelier hung in the sitting room, centered above a plush couch, so white and pristine it was sinful to sit on. But after a few drinks, we did. The couch was flanked on both sides by wooden tables housing books of photography and soft leather coasters. While I joked and laughed and requested songs, she admired those inanimate objects. Commenting first on the elegant binding of the books and then on the suppleness of the coasters’ leather, holding her glass out of reverence for the latter. I didn’t notice her leave initially. She was so un-engaging, so taciturn. But when she returned from the basement she was talkative. Riddles, indecent proposals, anecdotes, song lyrics, all streamed forth. She left again and came back energetic. Twirling and gyrating as if possessed. On her third return, blood burst forth from her nostrils and a bit leaked from the left ear and I took her to the hospital. At the hospital that night, the doctor informed her she’d damaged her ear drum. The next day, she didn’t wash her hair and she didn’t wash it the day after that or the day after that or the day after that…

I also remember yesterday. I remember that we found a well worn bench. I remember that the curve of the wood fit the angle of our bodies comfortably. I remember the overbearing branch, extending nosily from a near by tree, that shaded us from the hot white sun. The wood was oddly discolored and we spent several minutes thinking about the stains previous visitors had left. I remember her telling me about researching the habits of auks in the arctic, about the farming co-op she was going to live on. I remember her telling me about hefting books and judging them for their apparent page weight and literary worth. I remember how short her hair was, but how healthy it looked. I let her sing to me:

down at headquarters, there’s a big database
with black and white photos of the side of your beautiful face
and your library record, and all your test scores
and an invitation to party like it’s 1984

I reveled in the fact that she wasn’t trying so hard, and I was happy she wasn’t deliberately wearing a symbol of her refusal to try any longer. And I remember that I said, “Lettie, I see you, now and I am confident that you are living your life under conditions that you have chosen.” And yesterday is all I will choose to remember.