Poetry, Inauguration, Land

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I’ve been sitting here watching President Obama’s second inauguration today, thinking about politics and ritual, about society and culture, and how even powerful, hard-won change can still seem, and maybe is, fragile.

Our country’s story in my lifetime has so often been written by violence. And every day that big story is not about tragedy but about the peaceful transfer of power, of a participatory democracy and civil society, I feel so moved I am riveted to the scene. So be it.

8th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

This seems like a good time to start the ball rolling for the Brigid Poetry Festival, an outpouring of verse in honor of the Goddess Brigid, Patron Saint of Ireland. Already people are starting to post on the Poetry Festival’s Facebook Page that I have been curating for the past two years. I think this year’s silent poetry reading could be even larger and more inclusive than the last.

Here are two poems about the spirits of this land and the spirit of this country. The first is part of the ancient Navajo Mountain Chant, a nine-day ceremony of healing for individuals and blessing the whole tribe. It was witnessed and translated in 1884 by Irish immigrant Washington Matthews, who had served as a surgeon in the Civil War.

Twelfth Song of the Thunder

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice above,
The voice of the thunder
Within the dark cloud
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below,
The voice of the grasshopper
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

Praise Song for the Day

The poet Elizabeth Alexander wrote this for Barack Obama’s first inaugural ceremony in January, 2009. I think it deserves to be read again today. All praise is due to love.

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.

4 thoughts on “Poetry, Inauguration, Land

  1. Brid Wyldearth

    Thank you for these beautiful poems Anne and for hosting the Brigid Poetry Festival. I started my blog just to take part in this and was just thinking about it last night so welcomed the post I saw on my facebook page.

    Anne Reply:

    Thanks Brid, glad to have you take part on your new blog!

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