Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem. I keep thinking back to it and I don't quite know what to make of it. It seemed so cool and dispassionate, and she read it in a halting and bracing manner that made me wonder if she was a better poet in writing than speaking. But, before rushing to criticize it I went back and read it again and stopped to think about her intentions in creating the poem.
I found that, in many ways, the tone of her poem was similar to President Obama's address. Both were halting, without sentimentality, intellectual, focused on possibility, but aware of harsh realities.
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,
It is just as terrifying as it is exciting. I thought Obama did an excellent job conveying the hard work that's ahead of us in his address. I think he worked hard to drain some of the giddy elation from that day and help us to wake up and think about the hard task ahead. Alexander's poem fit right in with this message. Perhaps I was disappointed because I was waiting for a message of pure joy like the benediction of Rev. Lowery. Or maybe I had the bad taste from Rick Warren's exclusive, Christians-only message still in my mouth. But, looking back, I find the poem pitch-perfect.
You see some of the time I get tired of all of the images of older black folks weeping with joy, and little black boys "finally inspired." It's not that I don't want this to happen, but solving the issues of race is not that simple. Some of the time it feels like we're being put on display to assuage the consciences of a guilty country. Guilt is not productive, it's masturbatory.
My heart was more in the place of Alexander and Obama-- cool and just a little tense. Alexander described the entire country in a series of snapshots-- she described how fragmented we are as a nation and it shows how difficult the task of working together will be. I think the difference in perspective is related to age. Lowery, is simply amazed that this day ever came-- but the younger people like Alexander are gratified, true, but they can more clearly see this isn't the end-- there's still a long way to go. And I'm not just speaking about issues of race, but also gender equality, and homophobia.
It's not a day for weeping but for looking calmly and rationally to the future and hoping we can make it. Hoping we can fit all of the very different Americas together into a united whole.