A Litany for Survival

BY AUDRE LORDE

Photo by TJ Parker

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Praise Song For The Day

Photo by TJ Parker
Praise Song for the Day
BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDER

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.



Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.

Source: Praise Song for the Day (Graywolf Press, 2009)