Many Faces Of Love (In Poetry)
Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder
The talk is good. The two friends linger
at the door. Urban crickets sing with them.
There is no after the supper and talk.
The talk is good. These two friends linger
at the door, half in, half out, 'til one
decides to walk the other home. And so
they walk, more talk, the new doorstep, the
nightgowned wife who shakes her head
from the bedroom window as the men talk
in love and the crickets sing along.
The joke would be if the one now home
walked the other one home, where
to keep talking, and so on: "African
Leave-Taking Disorder," which names
everywhere trying to come back together and talk.
Praise Song for the Day
A Poem for Barack Obama's
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching
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
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.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways
the will of some one and then others,
I need to see what's on the other side.
I know there's something better down
We need to find a place where we
We walk into that which we cannot
Say it plain: that many have died for
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
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
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
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said
"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'")
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
Elizabeth Alexander was born in 1962 in Harlem, New York, and
grew up in Washington, D.C. She received a B.A. from Yale University,
an M.A. from Boston University (where she studied with Derek Walcott),
and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania. Her
collections of poetry include American Sublime, which was a finalist
for the Pulitzer Prize. She has received a National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the Quantrell Award
for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at the University of
Chicago, and the George Kent Award, given by . She has taught
at Haverford College, the University of Chicago, the University
of Pennsylvania, and Smith College, and is currently at Harvard
University. She was selected to read at Barack Obama's Presidential
Inauguration on January 20, 2009.