Memory as Springboard

A peaceful Ramadan to all who are fasting and rejoicing at the start of this month-long celebration.  May this month be purposeful, meaningful and prayerful for you and yours.

And for those in the United States, may you have a safe Memorial Day weekend and holiday.


In this Memorial Day weekend episode, I give you three poems that show us the way forward, as we re-member, re-order, honor and live with the losses that are front-and-center for each of us individually and communally.  The violence and war that have taken our precious ones demands that we go beyond borders and contrivances of family and nation to heal and to hope.  I focus on three poets and their poems in this episode.  They are Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day”, Czeslaw Milosz’s “Encounter” and Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!”  Listen to these incredible poets’ wisdom!  (Check out the links to their poetry if you want to find more of their work. It’s worth it to take a peek!)

Praise Song for the Day — Elizabeth Alexander

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.

 

Encounter — Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.

A red wing rose in the darkness.

 

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.

One of us pointed to it with his hand.

 

That was long ago.  Today neither of them is alive.

Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

 

Oh my love, where are they, where are they going

The flesh of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.

I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

 

O Me! O Life — Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

 

  Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

About the Author Lee Ann Hopkins

"Smile and the world smiles with you." That's the motto she lives by. Lee Ann is perfectly imperfect and unabashed about it even as she strives for higher and "better" every day. Both her can-do and her foibles are as fabulous as her smile. So take a moment and breathe in Lee Ann's "hooray" for today! Ms. Hopkins is host of the podcast Hooray Weekly, founder of The Hooray Daily and Hooray Living, a speaker, writer and do-gooder, who believe-it-or-not has been a public-interest attorney and clergywoman for longer than she cares to admit. Check out her books, You Are All That: Creating a Great Life with Affirmations, and Hooray for You: 365 Get-Up-and-Go-Go Quotes for Your Year. When you write her, send along a clergy and attorney joke. She loves 'em!

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