Monday, January 19, 2009

Poetry: For Obama's Inauguration

Here's the poem I'm going to be reading for the 100 inaugural poets project that I mentioned here. I tried a number of approaches, and finally decided that the earliest influences are best. So pour out a 40 for Theodore Geisel and join me:

For Obama's Inauguration

Hail to the President of hope and change!
On this great day we rearrange
The chairs on our high deck of state
All good things come to us who had to wait
Our age, born with the Southern strategy,
Perfected by Reagan's dolt jubilee,
Produced in Bush Two the one who is worst
So hail lesser evil! Hail Barack the First!
So long have the worst been the people's choice
That now, first in decades, is our time to rejoice
The TV flicker of hange and chope
Must signal something better than Clinton's scope

Oh dear, I can't read in the sun's glare
What I thought I could see isn't quite there
I should have pasted my papers, they're blowing away,
I can't even say what I wanted to say...

Hey mister, you dropped something –

Now that you stopped, got any spare change?
I'll just drink it down, but that isn't strange
I've lived my whole life in this country
But what has America been to me?
A nation in cowardice since 9/11,
Hell on Earth so they can dream about Heaven,
More people in jail than ever before,
Eager to torture, cheering for war
You can't blame just Bush as the one selected
The second time, he was even elected
And Obama thinks he can pull them together?
Good luck, guy, in stormy weather
Hey Obama, after all they've been through
Less than half of white people voted for you!
This country's like someone with a cough
Staggering on with one leg cut off

Yeah sure, Obama is a dream
A black President's good for our self-esteem
Been waiting long, but you know what I've heard?
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it fall like old dry grapes off a vine?
Or soar like a suit blown off a clothesline?

You first know a President by who he brings in
And Rick Warren's the minister next to him
Hey Rick! How's it feel to push down Jesus' head?
Force your words into his mouth, say it's what he said?
Rick Warren's the Anti-Christ of our days
And being a Christian's about hating gays
Obama says those divided times are done
I look around and see them going on
Obama's going to compromise and waste our chance
When we need to wake up, we'll get the same old trance...

I've been listening, homeless guy, it's not quite like that --

Sure we'll try to get some spare change shaken out
But there's hope too coming after the drought
I'm a machinist, and I work on the machine
A machine made of people is the type I mean
Not the old style, for politicians to get elected
But the new kind, to combine the rejected
Our problems can be fixed, we know how to do it
We have to break the system and push through it
The GOP showed us how, they did indeed
Because 51 percent is all you need

Obama? Yeah I know about his biz
A man in Chicago told me how he is
The more you work for him, the more you believe,
The less of his regard you will receive
That's fine. I can give that my respect
Because who does he need for his projects?
He'll try to make nice, and not make a fuss
But in the end, he has to come back to us
We're the ones who put him there, and he hates to lose
And when push comes to shove, we're the ones who will choose
It's not his strength, but his weakness that gives hope
When he finds that Rick Warren won't help him cope
He'll have to turn to the new spread-out machine
That sent him small money, sent the ballots in
He wants to “look forwards,” let the war crimes go
But things can never change if we never say no
The system doesn't work, Constitution's disrupted
With a President King and a Court that's corrupted
We need a new deal, throw the old one away
And if Obama wants our help he has to pay
By giving us more than just chope and hange
He makes deals, so our system's gonna change
And if after all that we try to preserve it
We deserve to get screwed, because suckers deserve it

Come on, now, let's put the machine together
That'll be our prayer, in every weather
To make something tireless, that'll never stop,
As each of us fall it will never drop
Until we get justice, until prisoners are released,
Until we all have food, until we have peace,
Until we can even hope for these things
Without believing that greatness is what conflict brings,
Until we don't need a leader any more
And it's automatic that we don't get ignored

Yes, let's cheer for him as he begins
Yes, Obama, we're the ones who made you win
Yes, we don't really need you
Yes, we can make you come through


  1. Rich - it's lovely but it doesn't scan. Here, try this:

    Hail to the President of change!
    On this great day we rearrange
    The chairs on our high deck of state
    All good things come to those who wait.
    Born in the Southern strategy,
    Perfected by Reagan's jubilee,
    Our age produced the very worst.
    So all hail Barack the First!
    Mo more the worst’s the the people's choice
    It’s now, at last, time to rejoice
    The TV flicker’s hange and chope
    Signal’s more than Clinton's scope

  2. Thanks, anon, I'm glad you liked it, but it doesn't scan on purpose. I wanted it to be somewhat jagged, and thought that rhyme + regular meter would be too much. It's supposed to have some of the variation of ordinary people talking to each other.

    Well, the first part is supposed to be read by a poet who gives up. Perhaps I should set that apart more by regularizing it. Hmm.

  3. A great poem for the inauguration of a great president
    haiku graphics

  4. Now, what I'd like to see is the music video version....

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I read the thing today, and it went well. It was probably in the bottom three most cynical inaugural poems out of 30+ of them. But I read it as well as I've ever read anything, even managing to hit the "Yes, we can" in the last line, and a woman working at the coffee shop told me afterwards that she especially liked the poem and was glad that someone was willing to say it. (I think that she was the one who cheered just after the "We deserve to get screwed, because suckers deserve it" line -- I read it as "fooled" because there were children there.) And there were other appreciative comments too, including the glass-half-full "Hey, I could actually follow all the way through one of your poems this time." So I'd say this has turned out to be one of my best so far.

  6. This poem is a bit harsh on Obama, but I like the riff on Langston Hughes (in the stanza beginning "yeah sure Obama is a dream").

  7. Thanks, LFC. It has another riff on Langston Hughes also -- "But what has America been to me?" refers to Let America Be America Again, the poem that Kerry used for his campaign slogan. Here's an incredibly stupid Tim Noah piece cringing about it. Kerry was a lousy campaigner and might well have been a lousy President, but the electorate's choice of Bush over him was, as far as I'm concerned, America's full participation in killing the American dream. That makes everything that Obama does suspect, really -- he'll willing to say things like "America doesn't torture" and he's a good enough pol to know that he's lying. He's willing to keep the belief in the dream alive without its substance.