Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Note: This is the correct version. Peace.

Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander

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 some one 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 pre-empt 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.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I feel sometimes that my blog has become a running obituary. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jorge Macchi, for example, used the obituary pages from the Buenos Aires newspaper to construct a city of paper in which stars and crosses were all that remained. And loss is part of life. It’s all that strange ying/yang cycle of creation. But I am surprised by how easy it is for me to not visit this place, to forget to chronicle life’s thoughts – I’ve been so busy. I never thought I’d hear myself say that.

In any case, I’m going to stop beating around the drum. I’m very sad about the death of Ana Sisnett, tocaya, artista, poeta, activista, elder, grandmother, drummer, Scorpio.

She was to be featured in the Austin Salon this past November, but was ill. We drummed for her instead. She’s been fighting ovarian cancer since 2006, when she was diagnosed. Like most artists, she was uninsured, and like most artists, was at the mercy of her community’s goodwill. Luckily, the City of Austin provided good services for her and her community has loved her very much.

My friend K.M. first told me about Ana, and that I should meet her. That she too is an Afro-Latina artist and writer. S.B. showed me a painting she had done of two mermaids. When I was first in Austin in Spring 2006, there was a poetry reading and fundraiser for her, but I didn’t get to go. And so it was that I met her in the Fall of 2006. We met at Chango’s and had tacos together and learned about each other’s work and history. At a fundraiser for Ana later that Fall, I first heard Lourdes Perez – an extraordinary Boricua folk singer with a long history in Austin and I first saw how much Ana is dearly loved. She started freenet – an organization devoted to providing access to technology to low-income people. She believed, deeply, in the power that art has to give life. Not to save it but to give it. Her paintings and poetry alike are bright collages of color and flavors, of energy coming together in a dance of memory, place, love and body. Ana was an elder. She always made a point of showing me her daughter and her granddaughter’s paintings, of listening to their music, of understanding the importance of the generations.

When we first met, we laughed about being tocaya – connected by name, and thus by spirit. I recall how many times, J.M. has told me she was sending me a text that ended up going to Ana Sisnett instead or vice versa. That is the tocaya essence – it is easy to be confused.

Last Saturday, as I stood next to her, I said Tocaya loudly, whispered into her ear, “I love you, Ana.” and kissed her goodbye. In that moment, I realized that I was also saying goodbye to all the women ancestors in my own family with whom I did not have that opportunity. And that soon, Ana would be joining them, and maybe, just maybe she could carry some of that love to them, too. Here is a poem for Ana.


Baila the rhythms of Panama and Barbados


Caribbean salsa dancing in your bones


as smoothly as mainland heat


as easily as sweet plantain

ta-ta tata ta-ta

and rice and peace


Baila the rhythms of paint on canvas


of pen on paper


of hand on drum


of laughter and a raised eyebrow


step back, shake a shoulder

Takiti takata

shimmer and shine with that sexy groove

Tun-tun tuku-tun Tun-tun tuku-tan

Takiti Takiti ta

Tun-tun taka ta

Tun-tun tuku-tun

Takiti Takiti Takiti

Ta Ta Ta.