Cold, millions, poetry from New Haven to commemorate
That most historic of occasions. Your wife wore green gloves,
Possibly the ugliest green ever shown on national television.
I found it strange, that a poem celebrating the first black president
Should not have word or mention of ‘four score and seven’, ‘let justice ring’
But be a poet’s poem, about love and words and love of words.
I found it irrelevant. Poets have their place in times—to draw on history
Reflect back on ‘four score and seven,’ the promise of our founding
Mothers and fathers (Abigail Adams: for I desire you would remember the ladies
Wearing green gloves to their husband’s inauguration, standing straight and proud
In a city once segregated from front to back, block by block, war torn in race riots
Race torn in war riot, divided north from south by the Mason-Dixon running
Like a fever and a fire, spanning three score and seven hundred thousand square miles
Of land built on the promise of self-evident truths and unalienable rights
That were neither self-evident nor unalienable to have fought four score and seven wars
In cold wars and world wars and colonial, civil, and court wars
Of Axis tilt and Allied turned nuclear, Orange, and tort wars
For all men would be tyrants if they could, and we are blessed that war is so terrible—
We have already grown too fond of it.
I find it disturbing, this nation’s reluctance to face their long and bloody past
To acknowledge exactly what we’re made of: the sweat and sweltering of injustice
The cries of a man who walked the Mall and spoke before Lincoln of a dream
Of a hunger older than four score and seven, going back to the days
When the Children of Israel cried and the Lord gave ten plagues, strange and terrible,
Saying, ‘Let my people go,’ so the words of freedom might ring
From every hill and molehill in Mississippi, from every mountainside
Yea, even from Mount Moriah, where the Lord commanded Abraham to offer up his son
Who seeing the multitudes, opened his mouth, saying: Though I have freedom from men
And the wealth of nations, yet have not humanity, I am become as tyrants;
And though I have the gift of knowledge and understand all science,
Though I dispense justice in the letter of the law yet have not humanity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, though I give my body to defend the nation,
Yet have not humanity, it profiteth nothing, for our fathers brought forth a nation
Conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition of equality
But if I have not humanity, that proposition is meaningless and government of the people
By the people, for the people, cannot exist upon this earth.
Do you remember your inauguration, Mr. President?
Do you remember the words of a man who never lived to see his dream
The words of presidents who died after wars, the words of their wives
Who struggled for rights, the words of their brothers reaching for space?
I know you do. I know the presidency is a thankless task
Where everyone has an opinion, a solution, a problem, a cause—
You must love this nation to have wanted the office, you must be ambitious
To have believed you could win. Between negotiations, campaigns,
Signing bills, considering treaties, setting agendas, nominating judges, maintaining
Diplomatic relations, congressional relations, talking, consulting,
Reading, traveling, trying to listen to the American people
Trying to serve to the best of your ability—it must be exhausting. You are, after all, human.
But between the rush to fix the economy, housing, education, terrorism, midterm elections
Appearing on talk shows with political pundits, delivering speeches three times a day,
Do you take time, Mr. President, to remember?
You like to collect stories, to talk about the incredible lives of American citizens
It gives you a sense of connection to the past, to the slim volume that is American history.
Do you take time, Mr. President, to count four score and seven?
To consider, whether our nation so conceived, will endure
To wonder, if the dream that all of God’s children, black and white, Jew and Gentile,
Transsexual and transvestite, joining hands and singing the words of an old Negro spiritual
Is naivete, and nothing more?
I don’t know what I’m asking, Mr. President. I know through history
That humans have made immeasurable progress in the span of our time
I know the problems we face today are daunting—some new variations of old,
Some old questions surfacing anew—but I have faith that we’ll live to the next age.
What I’m asking, Mr. President, is whether something’s been lost
That in our pursuit of new markets, new technology, new fashions, new products
New news on polls, new data on the economy, new weapons for war, new industries for court,
If we’ve forgotten how slowly time moves, how costly our freedoms are
How quickly power changes, how easily ideas vanish.
I don’t know why I’m asking you, Mr. President, because you cannot halt the march of time
You do not hold the reins of the world or the people. You are, after all, only human.
The reach of your office is neither as far nor wide as people would like to believe.
But if not you, to whom do I put this question?
Whom do I address? Congressman, senator, governor, delegate?
They are, strangely enough, perceived as increasingly irrelevant.
Eyes, cameras, journalists, talk shows, fixate more and more on you, your office.
People are already speculating on candidates for the next presidential election.
I find it strange, but I am also a hypocrite—it’s Election Day, and I’m not voting.
Because I find that my vote is irrelevant. It doesn’t get translated to policy at any level anyway.
Do you remember your inauguration, Mr. President—
The world of our grandmothers was no less complicated than our world today
Yet we believe we live in extraordinary times.
I wonder if the reason why you can’t make changes
Is because you separate then from now,
And do not remember history.