I am lazy, the laziest girl in the world. I sleep during the day when I want to, 'til my face is creased and swollen, 'til my lips are dry and hot. I eat as I please: cookies and milk after lunch, butter and sour cream on my baked potato, foods that slothful people eat, that turn yellow and opaque beneath the skin. Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday I am still in my nightgown, the one with the lace trim listing because I have not mended it. Many days I do not exercise, only consider it, then rub my curdy belly and lie down. Even my poems are lazy. I use syllabics instead of iambs, prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme, write briefly while others go for pages. And yesterday, for example, I did not work at all! I got in my car and I drove to factory outlet stores, purchased stockings and panties and socks with my father's money. To think, in childhood I missed only one day of school per year. I went to ballet class four days a week at four-forty-five and on Saturdays, beginning always with plie, ending with curtsy. To think, I knew only industry, the industry of my race and of immigrants, the radio tuned always to the station that said, Line up your summer job months in advance. Work hard and do not shame your family, who worked hard to give you what you have. There is no sin but sloth. Burn to a wick and keep moving. I avoided sleep for years, up at night replaying evening news stories about nearby jailbreaks, fat people who ate fried chicken and woke up dead. In sleep I am looking for poems in the shape of open V's of birds flying in formation, or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.
Praise Song for the 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: