Jubilation abounded in many places last Saturday when the 2020 presidential election was called for Joe Biden. Spontaneous and lighthearted, it brought back to me lines from Maya Angelou’s deeply voiced verse “On the Pulse Of Morning” from the 1993 Clinton inauguration:
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing
Need for this bright morning dawning for you.
As I noted in last month’s LOT, Biden quoted a Seamus Heaney translation of Sophocles’ The Cure at Troy:
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
And so I look forward to hearing more Heaney perhaps and a new inauguration laureate (and much else) in the coming January.
For now, here is an eclectic mix of pieces that I have shared in different contexts this last week. Each seems to me to carry hope. The first is by Rita Dove, a former US Poet Laureate, from her collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks.
Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn’t had time to stick;
back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file . . .
the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.
I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn’t know their names?
Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.
From Ted Kooser, also a US Poet Laureate and, wait for it, a former insurance executive, two poems from the collection, Delights & Shadows.
The green shell of his backpack makes him lean
into wave after wave of responsibility,
and he swings his stiff arms and cupped hands,
paddling ahead. He has extended his neck
to its full length, and his chin, hard as a beak,
breaks the cold surf. He’s got his baseball cap on
backwards as he crawls, out of the froth
of a hangover and onto the sand of the future,
and lumbers, heavy with hope, into the library.
I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm,
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they’d come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cents’ worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
or pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles.
And finally, Seamus Heaney’s most apt reminder of our highest calling to participatory citizenship, from the book The Haw Lantern.
From the Republic of Conscience
When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway
At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather
The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye
No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared
Fog is a dreaded omen there, but lightning
spells universal good and parents hang
swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms
Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater
Their sacred symbol is a stylized boat
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
The hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.
At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office
and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky-god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless
I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs woman
having insisted my allowance was myself
The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen
He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue
Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved
About Lines of Thinking
Lines of Thinking is a monthly feature from College President Tom Manley. Each installment features a poem selected for its powers to transport us to some higher, lower or common ground, and, possibly in the process, provide fresh perspective and insight on the ground we occupy daily.