|The true miracle lies in our eagerness to allow, appreciate, and honor the uniqueness and freedom of each sentient being to sing the song of their heart.|
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)
All poetry is about hope.
A scarecrow walks into a bar.
An abandoned space station falls to earth.
When probing the monster’s brain,
you’re probably probing your own.
A beautiful woman becomes a ghost.
I hope I never miscalculate the dosage
that led to the infarction
of my lab rabbit again.
All poetry is a form of hope.
Not certain, just actual
like love and other traffic circles.
I cried on that airplane too,
midwest patchwork below
like a board game on which
mighty forces kick apart the avatars.
I always wanted to be the racecar
but usually ended up a thumbtack.
When I was young, sitting in a tree
counted as preparation and later
maybe a little whoopie in the morgue.
So go ahead, thaw the alien, break
the pentagram but watch out for
the institutional hood ornaments.
It’s not a museum, it’s a hive.
The blood may be fake
but the bleeding’s not.
~Dean Young – 1955
“There is no small act of kindness. Every compassionate act makes large the world.” —Mary Anne Radmacher
Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World
For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say:
Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins
of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass,
and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born
in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing
of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell
in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War
sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate,
and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke
form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons,
but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.
Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street,
a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House,
the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence.
Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say:
Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells.
Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say:
Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells.
Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep
in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried.
Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language
of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation
from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.
Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest,
heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.
From the Author:
About This Poem
“As the dedication indicates, on December 14, 2012, a gunman killed twenty students and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I wrote this poem for the National Children’s Day event Within Our Reach, held at the Newtown Congregational Church on June 8, 2013—less than six months after the tragedy. The ‘city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass’ is Tirana, Albania, site of the Bell of Peace; the city ‘where cannons from the armies of the Great War / sank into molten metal’ is Rovereto, Italy, site of the Campana dei Caduti (Bell of the Fallen) or Maria Dolens bell. The ‘town with a flagpole on Main Street’ is, of course, Newtown.”
A rose by any other name could be Miguel or Tiffany Could be David or Vashti Why not Aya which means beautiful flower but also verse and miracle and a bird that flies away quickly You see where this is going That is you could look at a rose and call it You See Where This Is Going or I Knew This Would Happen or even Why Wasn’t I Told I’m told of a man who does portraits for money on the beach He paints them with one arm the other he left behind in a war and so he tucks a rose into his cuff always yellow and people stare at it pinned to his shoulder while he works Call the rose Panos because I think that’s his name or call it A Chair By The Sea Point from the window to the garden and say Look a bed of Painter’s Hands And this is a good place to remember the rose already has many names because language is old and can’t agree with itself In Albania you say Trëndafil In Somalia say Kacay
In American poetry it’s the flower you must never name And now
you see where this is going out the window across water to a rose shaped island that can’t exist but you’re counting on to be there unmapped unmentioned till now The green place you imagine hiding when the world finds out you’re not who you’ve said
“Maybe, maybe not. One thing you learn when you’ve lived as long as I have—people aren’t all good, and people aren’t all bad. We move in and out of darkness and light all of our lives. Right now, I’m pleased to be in the light.” ~ Unwind, Neal Shusterman
This is her descending
in a hidden photograph
taken when I was
an infant and Mother held me
at arm’s length. I look back
for her, unsurprised
still questioning why she doesn’t return
my gaze. Her eyes
fix on a spot between
her face and my face. For the infant
there is no distinction.
Her disaffection stains the intimate
objects found years later
among her things of everyday:
a thimble embroidered with a single petal.
a slim gold watch-stopped.
Brushes held to
dry in a bamboo roll. A tiny lime
and fuchsia dress sewn by her
hands for my hundredth day.
His wedding band, scarred
a muted gray. In the gap between us
a vacancy swells and bellies
the air where her eyes avert mine
to slide off where? I wish I could see her
engage and ignite
these traces of the ordinary,
the minutely particular
totems of our daily life: holy.
In an old dream, I plot a little boy’s flight.
Like a fighter pilot, I drop
a homing device back in time to spy
into the landscape of my infancy
before she turned her face away-
before my need was extraordinary.
~Eleanor Chai, Standing Water Poems
I followed myself for a long while, deep into the field.
Two heads full of garbage.
Our scope was larger than I realized,
which only made me that much more responsible.
Yellow, yellow, gold, and ocher.
We stopped. We held the field. We stood very still.
Everyone needs a place.
You need it for the moment you need it, then you bless it—
thank you soup, thank you flashlight—
and move on. Who does this? No one.
THE PAINT doesn’t move the way the light reflects,
so what’s there to be faithful to? I am faithful
to you, darling. I say it to the paint. The bird floats
in the unfinished sky with nothing to hold it.
The man stands, the day shines. His insides and
his outsides kept apart with an imaginary line—
thick and rude and imaginary because there is
no separation, fallacy of the local body, paint
on paint. I have my body and you have yours.
Believe it if you can. Negative space is silly.
When you bang on the wall you have to remember
you’re on both sides of it already but go ahead,
yell at yourself. Some people don’t understand
anything. They see the man but not the light,
they see the field but not the varnish. There is no
light in the paint, so how can you argue with them?
They are probably right anyway. I paint in his face
and I paint it out again. There is a question
I am afraid to ask: to supply the world with what?
It softens want
into nothing mean
and lack is not
so dark anymore.
Things can be
a little dim,
less than ideal
and still amaze,
as when there’s been
and you aren’t any longer
bowing to it.
the pain having stopped,
isn’t a moment.
It isn’t brief.
It keeps going.
a spot of sun,
bar sign, label
light where you
Or a name
of a subway car
that only makes sense
when you say it aloud
in your head
as it passes.
It’s not a place,
but I am grateful to be in it,
where endings and known things
and I, the judge I know myself to be,
go to review
the very heavy declarations
I so often lay down like law.
It’s not a place at all.
I just practice there, assemble
some beliefs, disturb
others and put the extras
into a pile for mosaics,
one of my big projects
for the future.
The failure of love might account for most of the suffering in the world.
The girl was going over her global studies homework
in the air where she drew the map with her finger
touching the Gobi desert,
the Plateau of Tiber in front of her,
and looking through her transparent map backwards
I did suddenly see,
how her left is my right, and for a moment I understood.
~ Marie Howe
In this room, hours pass, a slight
corruption of each previous
allotted time block—and probably
confirm failure and humiliation,
which though not ideal, I accept
as historically accurate. I’m sick
of lifestyle music, the thing between
awe and detachment which Hazlitt
defines as adrift. I clear my throat
remind myself, doors are locked,
the ashtray half-full. Unless otherwise
noted, light falls from the television—
accompanies night, any available
other-worldly knowledge. What else?
I’m unhappy even at the edge of rivers,
conversations regarding weather,
any manner of appointment. All comfort
requires another voice. Ditto delusion.
For instance, these shadows imposed
from trees bent by wind and other forms
of predictive behavior, may or may
not contain consciousness. I’m still
working it out. A glass of water grows
warm. I have done terrible and middle
class things for money. This is not
necessarily an acceptable conversation.
Things are good. The serotonin
reuptake inhibitor fades another winter.
If there are things we need, there are
things we need less. I face the mirror
to say it again with feeling. Understand
this is me applying myself.
~ Brett Fletcher Lauer
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
― Nelson Mandela,
No object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye. ~ Elizabeth Bowen
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days. ~ John Burroughs
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. ~ Andy Warhol
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
We acquire the strength we have overcome. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
“It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written.
A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence.
Only one answer: write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive.”
Be like the flower, turn your faces to the sun. ~ Kahlil Gibran
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
― Frida Kahlo
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.”
— Mary Oliver