Sing the names of the dead who brought us here

I am struggling to find the words to describe how I feel about the events of the past 48 hours.

My parents immigrated to America in the 1970s. I feel hot tears build up as I think about the freedom that this country represented for them, for their entire families that depended on them, for the hope they upheld by investing every last penny in a one-way-ticket to get here. Everything, for the dream. They lived in trailers in South Carolina for years. They borrowed utensils from each other, made home-cooked food for their neighbors no matter the color of their skin. They didn’t speak a lick of English, yet found ways to wade through textbooks of technical and medical language. They overcame discrimination, shame, fear. They thought they could be safe here. Many others did, too. What is happening to that dream? How can we forget the freedoms our country was founded upon, how can we lose ground in our path of progress towards the fundamental truth that we are all created equal?

We cannot, we will not.

Here I am, born and raised as an American. Here I am, feigning fluency. Here I am, speechless and appalled at the events, yet ready to speak loudly in the ways I can. Donating, calling, writing, conversing, collaborating with friends to create art and dialogue. (Kristan sums it up well in her post from today.)

I’ve referenced this Elizabeth Alexander poem a couple of times on this blog and on Twitter, but here it is again. I hope we can continue to march together, into the light.

Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander

(A poem written for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration)

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.

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