ii Gloria Praise the wet snow falling early. Praise the shadow my neighor's chimney casts on the tile roof even this gray October day that should, they say, have been golden. Praise the invisible sun burning beyond the white cold sky, giving us light and the chimney's shadow. Praise god or the gods, the unknown, that which imagined us, which stays our hand, our murderous hand, and gives us still, in the shadow of death, our daily life, and the dream still of goodwill, of peace on earth. Praise flow and change, night and the pulse of day.
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.
Watch Elizabeth Alexander read “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama's inauguration in 2009:
Today I will praise.
I will praise the sun
For showering its light
On this darkened vessel.
I will praise its shine.
Praise the way it wraps
My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums
Demanding to be seen.
I will lift my hands in adoration
Of how something so bright
Could be so heavy.
I will praise the ground
That did not make feast of these bones.
Praise the casket
That did not become a shelter for flesh.
Praise the bullets
That called in sick to work.
Praise the trigger
That went on vacation.
Praise the chalk
That did not outline a body today.
Praise the body
For still being a body
And not a headstone.
Praise the body,
For being a body and not a police report
Praise the body
For being a body and not a memory
No one wants to forget.
Praise the memories.
Praise the laughs and smiles
You thought had been evicted from your jawline
Praise the eyes
For seeing and still believing.
For being blinded from faith
But never losing their vision
Praise the visions.
Praise the prophets
Who don’t profit off of those visions.
Praise the heart
For housing this living room of emotions
Praise the trophy that is my name
Praise the gift that is my name.
Praise the name that is my name
Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify
Praise the praise.
How the throat sounds like a choir.
The harmony in your tongue lifts
Into a song of adoration.
For being able to praise.
For waking up,
When you had every reason not to.
after Wisława Szymborska
In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.
I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali—
None of us is happy about this summit.
After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.
I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.
I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor’s tree—
So that’s where you’ve been, you little rascal.
I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?
Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.
I’m full of gratitude—
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.
Yes, I’m the scientist who solved laryngitis—
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.
I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I’m awarded another trophy—
Someone above is giving me a second chance.
for the Women of the 19th Amendment
Praise their grit and gospel, their glistening
brains, their minds on fire. Neurons, numbering the stars.
Praise their bones. Their spines and skulls,
the axis, the atlas: I will not and I shall.
Their mouths, praise. Ridged palates
and smart muscular tongues, teeth, sound or pitted,
their wit and will. Their nerve,
and founded within the body. Honor
now their wombs and hearts, biceps and blood,
deep mines of the flesh where passion is tested.
Thank all twenty-six bones of their feet,
arches, heels, bunions, sweat,
marching the streets in high buttoned boots. Praise
the march. Praise justice.
Though slow and clotted.
Their hands at the press. The grease and clatter,
the smell of ink. Feel the sound
of their names in our mouths:
Susan B. Anthony
Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee
Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett
Praise their eyelids that close
and give rest
at the end of each long day.
Praise the work that goes on.
No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hush puppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.
Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.
But I tell my friends if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears and hair
Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,
So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth—
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth.
dedicated to my 30/30 crew
praise daily poems in my inbox
how they make me laugh in one stanza,
then break my heart the next
praise how poets hold onto our first loves,
and scent of mama, now gone
praise how we nurture our child self,
gently wrap her around stanzas,
baby girl is resilient
praise our spunk and our sadness,
let our writing heal
at home, at work, in cafés, even in the ICU
praise how we hold our memories up to light,
gentle and cupped in palm of hands
praise our rough and sexy poems,
sometimes that’s all we need
fiyah in the sheets
praise bebop and jazz
how my foot taps when i
speak your poems out loud
praise power of music and mama
who played Nancy Wilson all night long,
crying behind a closed door.
praise how i wrote a new poem this week,
while my sick child laid on my lap,
because everyone needs to heal, especially mamas.
Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing, Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches, Mad with the joy of the Sabbath, Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun, Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes, A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry living wild on the Streets through generations of children. Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning, Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh Of the wind in the pinewoods, At night give praise with starry silences. Give praise with the skirling of seagulls And the rattle and flap of sails And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor. Give praise with the humpback whales, Huge in the ocean they sing to one another. Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas, Give praise with hum of bees, Give praise with the little peepers who live near water. When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries We know that the winter is over. Give praise with mockingbirds, day's nightingales. Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle And glossy tulip trees On quiet side streets in southern towns. Give praise with the rippling speech Of the eider-duck and her ducklings As they paddle their way downstream In the red-gold morning On Restiguche, their cold river, Salmon river, Wilderness river. Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow. Far, far from the cities, Far even from the towns, With piercing innocence He sings in the spruce-tree tops, Always four notes And four notes only. Give praise with water, With storms of rain and thunder And the small rains that sparkle as they dry, And the faint floating ocean roar That fills the seaside villages, And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood, And with the angels in that other country.
Scribbles are the lianas of the forest of our selves. Clinging to them, the primate still in us frolics free.
Knotting has always been a form of governance, of exercis- ing power over others. Eliot Weinberger recalls a Second- Century Chinese tomb where the inscription states that the God Fu-Hsi ‘conceived of knotted laces in order to rule everything between the four seas’. The ancient mariners tied and untied ropes to tie and untie winds. One knot undone lifted a breeze; two, a gale, three, a storm. The man who carefully fastens his shoe-laces, determines the direction of his steps, takes charge of his destiny. Whoever tightens his belt, controls his base passions. A neatly knotted tie deters verbosity. The woman who wraps a scarf round her head owns her own thoughts, the one wearing a foulard will keep her head. Who does he govern, the man playing with a line, looping it, pulling it? What does he govern? Is to scribble to govern?
To scribble is to scratch the pane of glass steamed up by the breath of the ineffably immediate.
Protowriting, dadagraffiti, archaic trace, Freud’s fluff, the squiggle twists, wriggles, like a new-born babe on the diaper of the blank page.
Scribble is a microphotograph of the procession we all carry inside us. Stripe without tiger. Frown without forehead. Larva of creation. Caricature of abstraction. Visual Jitanjaphora. Rubric of freedom.
If a wound, what does it open? If a scar, what does it close?
Daniel contemplated the face of God in the form of light- ning. A graphic doodle: a shadowy beam, a snapshot of the Devil, a Lucifer in charcoal.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is