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Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem: 'Praise Song for the Day'

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The following is the full text of "Praise Song for the Day," an original work by Elizabeth Alexander, written for and read at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

***

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 someone 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 preempt 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.

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