Inauguration

Today I dressed all in black, save for the Obama-Biden T-shirt I pulled on over my turtleneck. I pinned my Hillary button to my fleece and set out on my usual morning walk, listening to Code Switch’s last podcast in their series about President Obama’s legacy.

The podcast featured Richard Blanco, who delivered the inaugural poem at President Obama’s second swearing-in. It is worth reading and remembering his words on such a day as today, so you can do so at the end of this post.

The podcast ended, and soon I was at my favorite cafe. After I’d finished reading the paper and sipping my cafe au lait it was 9:30 a.m., California time. I sneaked a peak at the New York Times headlines on my iPhone. Yes, the deed was done. Trump in. Obama out.

In the afternoon, I joined a local march for all the things the new president threatens: women’s rights, immigrant rights, ending racism, civil rights, health care, education, and our environment.

When I got home, I watched President Obama’s first Inaugural address. These things especially struck me:

  • How young he looked
  • What grave danger the country was in back then–on the verge of economic collapse–and how President Obama pulled us back from the brink
  • His words, “On this day we have chosen hope over fear,” and how their inverse is true today
  • And these words, which ring as true today as they did back then: “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin the work of remaking America.”

What I’ve most loved about President Obama is how he always appeals to the better angels of our nature. The fact that the opposite has also emerged so forcefully is a commentary not on him, but on the human condition and the tragedy of America’s failure to come to grips with its history of racial oppression.

I will strive to keep the promise of that day eight years ago alive. Goodbye and thank you, President Obama, for all you have done. I will miss you beyond measure.

*

“One Today”

By Richard Blanco, as written for President Obama’s second inauguration

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.

 

 

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