Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander’s poem for the Inauguration
January 20, 2009

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other,
catching each others' 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 someone
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 thy self."
Others by first do no harm,
or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love,
love beyond marital,
Love that casts a widening pool of light.
Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle,
this winter air,
anything can be made,
any sentence begun.

On the brink,
on the brim,
on the cusp –
praise song for walking forward in that light.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade

This caroling adventure started out as the brain child of a Leiper’s Fork restaurant owner. We’ll call her Miss Patti. She asked her music business friend – we’ll call him Mike Macintosh - to gather a few carolers to sing in the Leiper’s Fork Christmas Parade. Where I got the idea we would be standing under a pavilion looking all Currier & Ives, I can’t imagine. [Oh yeah, it was in his invitation email! I didn’t make that part up.]

The plan was that we were to meet at her eating establishment an hour before the parade and “rehearse”. I imagined we might turn out to be an odd collection of out-of-work session singers, and hoped I would read music well enough to keep up. Instead of rehearsing, I was vaguely introduced to another lady and asked to follow her to I wasn’t sure where. Gamely we made our way down Old Hillsboro Road amidst the gathering crowd and across a large, somewhat muddy field to the area where all the floats were assembling. There we were joined by a few more caroling volunteers.

We located our “float” by its identification number. This was a pretty long parade if we were number 41, I thought to myself. It was a flat bed truck, loaded with hay bales for sitting. Miss Patti had found a Santa and a snowman on sale somewhere and they were stationed at the front of the flatbed. She produced multiple Kroger bags full of garland to tape to the front of the truck and along the sides of the trailer. Everyone, guys included, hustled to get the decorating done. When we finished draping and taping, it was five minutes to the parade start time and we all piled aboard to “rehearse”.

Then we realized that we were positioned immediately behind another float which had seriously amplified TRACKS and a drum machine. There was no way anybody was going to hear us, motley unamplified a cappella crew that we were. Miss Patti found the Parade Director (a woman with a clipboard) and insisted that the parade order must be changed. “But Demetria Kaladimos already has the script! This is being televised on local TV – it won’t be good if we get out of order!” Miss Patti declared that she would take the responsibility. So a few other parade participants slid between us and the drum machine float.

The singers included the Mike Macintosh and a lady who I believe might be his wife; a gentleman in an overcoat; a cute young couple who showed up at the last minute bundled up in ski parkas; a family of young black men led by their matriarch; and a family of small blond children with their matriarch, who wrapped them in a huge camouflage quilt to keep them warm. I think the two matriarchs may have been the “singers” in the two families.

The guy in the overcoat was very handsome. I kept trying to discern his eligibility and I think it ended up he was single. Still, since we were never introduced, there’s little hope that our sitting back-to-back on hay bales will develop into a lovely connection.

How we might have sounded under different conditions, we’ll never know. Here’s how it went down. Miss Patti, restaurant owner and caroling entrepreneur, had a Mr. Microphone with amp which she placed next to her. She sat in the back of the truck facing the singers, who were facing outward to the crowd, back to back on the hay bales. Between Miss Patti and the rear of the flatbed, we singers seemed to be in two or three different time zones. Full of leadership energy, Miss Patti would start a song at quite a good clip and the guys in the back would end up singing it at their own, more (shall we say) relaxed, pace.

Finally, the parade began. Since I was sitting directly behind the tailpipe of the truck, the sky was overcast and gray, the temperature was in the low 30s, and I had just spent a week at home sick with bronchial issues, my Christmas spirit was not exactly exuding. But the cheerful faces of the crowds, (one- and sometimes two-deep along the parade route), kids waving, old tobacco-chewing men looking sheepish or skeptical, young couples with babies in strollers trying to make some magical memories – it all started to get to me. Pretty soon I was waving and smiling and making eye contact like a professional float rider. And before you knew it, it was over!! We actually sang better, and longer, on the slow trek back to the field than we had during the actual “performance”, about two blocks long.

There were some amazing sights to be seen. It was rumored that Naomi Judd was to be the Parade Marshall, and though there were no Judd sightings, we did see her red sleigh, very elegant. There were some awesome small horses with heavy fur, bedecked with multitudinous sleigh bells that made a shimmering sound, with their riders dressed in red finery. There was an old bearded guy gussied up as Father Christmas with long robes, his similarly garbed ancient wife and two enormous Great Danes draped in black velvet costumes that made them look like tiny horses. Demetria Kaladimos, looking small, cold and red-nosed, was indeed elevated on a platform in the middle of town (read two blocks of Old Hillsboro Road) announcing the parade, and a swarthy and mysterious gentleman, her announcing partner, noted as we passed that we ought to “Sing louder!” Right.

We determined that next year Miss Patti’s float would use TRACKS and choose three songs to feature, all upbeat and cheerful. There’s no time for aesthetics or sensitivity in a high powered parade like this.

Thanks to Mike Macintosh, the instigator of my Leiper’s Fork adventure, for inspiring me to write this little essay. Such memories should be preserved. Think what I would have missed if I had never left L.A.

Below, see Puckett's Grocery, a famed Leiper's Fork music venue and eatery.