I shot my mouth off a lot on Tuesday.
Giddy with the dawning of a new era, I got all sassy on facebook and talked smack about inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander.
I really have nothing against the woman herself. I just felt her poem to be middling-to-average, and her delivery of said poem was awful.
Perhaps I took it a bit too personally because I was so excited to have a contemporary poet standing up there on that bright stage, in full view of the entire world. I cheered when she appeared and was all full of goodwill and go get ’em, girl.
And then she spoke, and I was a bit deflated.
Granted, whoever planned the order of the ceremony did her no favors by placing her after all the big hoopla, and so the crowds, whose toes were probably a bit frozen by then, couldn’t be bothered to sit through a poem when the big moment had already transpired.
If she had been placed right after the invocation, she probably would have fared a bit better.
Someone also brought up the point about nerves given the huge crowd, the national stage, etcetera, but let me say this: I have performed in front of tiny rooms and huge auditoriums and outdoor concerts full of raucous teenagers and I would take the hundreds of thousands of faces any day over a small, intimate gathering. Big crowds are cake.
No, I’ve never performed in front of all the living Presidents of the United States, with Oprah in the front row and CNN cameras staring me down, but I’m quite confident I could have pulled out a better reading than Ms. Alexander.
So that’s what I said, more or less, on facebook on Tuesday. And then somebody called me out, challenged me to put my pen where my mouth was and write something myself, since I was so dissatisfied with the poem in question.
And that’s what I’ve spent the last 2 days doing. I’m sure inaugural poets get more than 2 days to craft their work, but I’m not really trying to one-up anyone. Not really. It just became important, sunddenly, to put my finger on what exactly it was I wanted to say about January 20, 2009.
As I started writing, I found that my focus was very simple. It was all about hope. So I wrote about the steadily burning hope I felt on that day, and the hope I’m sure so many others felt as we watched it all unfold.
I borrowed a few words from Nietzsche, from Dr. King, and from President Obama himself. And although I’m sure my chances of being invited to read at such a historical event are quite slim, if I were, this is a poem I would not be embarrassed to read there…
Hope does not automatically spring eternal.
It must first be ignited and after that, fueled.
Constantly it must be sheltered,
lest it be crushed
by the brutal jackboot of prejudice
or wither into obscurity beneath the negligent gaze
of the well-intentioned ignorant.
If hope is indeed the “worst of evils,”
prolonging the torments of the living,
it is also, by necessity, the best of pleasures,
making the work of living worthwhile.
While we breathe, we hope,
breath blows in vain
heart beats only out of habit
and all of it ceases to mean anything lovely.
It has to begin somewhere, so why not here
this winter morning, under limitless frigid sky,
why not here where we have gathered together
so when the books are written, we can say
we were there.
Why not here where we wait, guardians of the day,
assuring one another by our presence
that this hour has really come.
This moment is really ours.
Take the hope from its hiding place
deep in your chest
and pass this warm light
from hand to hand
Watch as faces
begin to share a telltale glow
and a path appears
where once there loomed an impenetrable wall.
Once, a man had a dream.
Today another man stands
and raises his hand
as evidence of things hoped for,
the embodiment of things not seen.
While there is hope, all is not lost.
While there is hope, courage can be found.
While there is hope, there is momentum,
the sudden possibility of change,
the eternal probability of joy.
Give us a reason to believe and
we will hew from the mountain of despair
a stone of hope.
And with that stone
we will bring down giants.
-Lo, who finds that it always comes back to the knife edge of hope.