Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Inauguration Poem Was A Winner—Obama Acknowledges Wait Staff

I thought the poem by Elizabeth Alexander that she read after Barack Obama’s Inauguration was a winner.( Here is Ms. Alexander’s web home.) The poem was lofty enough for the occasion without being abstract. (There is nothing wrong with abstract, but this was not the right event for that.)  

The poem addressed the words we use, the relationships we have, the work we do, and our history. These are important subjects that serve as foundations of the beliefs we hold and the public policies we pursue. They are things we don’t always talk about. I don’t know if that is because we think of them as mundane topics. Or if it is because they are subjects we find painful in many respects. (The lyrics to Simple Gifts, which was part of the music at the ceremony, are here in this blog post.)

I also noticed that Mr. Obama acknowledged the wait staff at the Statuary Hall lunch after the Inauguration ceremony was completed. He thanked them in his remarks at the lunch. If the President of the United States can behave in a respectful manner towards these workers, surely we all can behave in a respectful manner towards the people who help us during our day.

Here is the poem—

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ 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 thy self.”

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, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light

January 20, 2009 - Posted by | Barack Obama, Politics | , , , ,


  1. I also felt the tone of the poem was, just right.

    Comment by meyebeauty | January 20, 2009

  2. Glad you included the poem. Agree with your sentiments.

    Comment by Newton | January 20, 2009

  3. Thanks for both these nice comments. Many people have clicked to Ms. Alexander’s web page from this blog.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 22, 2009

  4. great poem i like Maya Angelous better for clinton

    Comment by beau | January 22, 2009

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