This Morning

The Mightiest Words

An inaugural poem worth remembering

By Steve Wiecking January 20, 2009

I am not a huge fan of poetry, by which I only mean to admit that my Tarzan paperbacks have seen more action than my despairing, dust-covered e.e. cummings collection dying to remind me of a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down.

But I know which words to hang onto—or, maybe, just which words hang onto me (with up so floating many bells down…). And this morning at Obama’s inauguration, poet Elizabeth Alexander’s words hung onto me.

I was certain Alexander and her "Praise Song for the Day" had lost me. She is perhaps not the best person to read her work aloud. She wouldn’t be the first writer with that handicap (and imagine reciting poetry in front of that capacity crowd). But by the time I’d turned the television off and headed for work I realized what clung to me was not the inaugural address but "What if the mightiest word is love—love beyond marital, filial, national?"

Alexander’s sentiment brought me back to my favorite writer, James Baldwin, who once said that "there’s something in the nostalgia that’s at the basis of the American personality that prohibits a certain kind of maturity and entraps the people in a kind of dream love that can never stand the weight of reality."

I think Alexander articulated how at this hopeful, harrowing moment in our lives, it’s time for us to deny that dream love and, as she wrote, "encounter each other with words." Let’s help the President engage in a wakeful dialogue that has the weight—and the wisdom—of reality.

Here’s Alexander again:

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