Friday, January 30, 2009

Inaugural/Unaugural Poems

Here's Maya Angelou's 1993 inaugural poem, "On the Pulse of Morning (Inaugural Poem)," followed by Clark Coolidge & Larry Fagin's Oulipo N+ "On the Pumice of Morons (Unaugural Poem)":

On the Pulse of Morning (Inaugural Poem)

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today,
You may stand on me,

But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.

Come, clad in peace
And I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.


The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind.
Come to me,
Here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers—desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours—your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes
Upon the day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space
To place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face,
Your country,

And say simply
Very simply
With hope—
Good morning.


--Maya Angelou


On The Pumice of Morons (The Unaugural Poem)

A Rock Crystal, A Roach, A Tree of Heaven
Hosiery to spectroheliographs long since departed,
Marked the masterwork,
The dingle, who left dried toile
Of its Soho here
On our plank flopover,
Any broad alabaster of their hastening doppelganger
Is lost in the gloss of duress and agglomeration.

But today, the Rock Crystal cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Backgammon and face your distant despondency,
But seek no haunt in my shackle.
I will give you no hiding pitter-patter down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angiosperm, have crouched too long in
The bruising dart
Have lain too long
Facedown in idolatry,
Your movies spilling workbags
Armed for slapstick.

The Rock Crystal cries out to us today,
You may stand upon me,
But do not hide your fabric.

Across the walking papers of the worm,
A Roach sings a beautiful sonnet. It says,
Come, rest here by my sidehead.
Each of you, a bordered countertenor,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under a sieve.
Your armed strychnine for professionalism
Has left collections of washrags upon
My shortcake, curling stones of debauchery upon my breaker.
Yet today I call you to my road,
If you will study wardrobe no more.

Come, clad in peacock,
And I will sing the sonar
The Cream gave to me when I and the
Tree of Heaven and the Rock Crystal were one.
Before a cyst was a bloody seascape across your brownout
And when you yet knew you still knew nougat.
The Roach sang and sings on.


There is a true yawn to respond to
The singing Roach and the wise Rock Crystal.
So say the Ash Can, the Hippogriff, the Jetsam,
The Afterbirth, the Native American Legion, the Sinner,
The Catnip, the Muskellunge, the Freezer, the Great White Way,
The Ipso Facto, the Quota, the Prima Donna, the Sheet,
The Gavel, the Stovepipe, the Prawn,
The Prism, the Homburg, the Taxi.
They hear. They all hear
The spatter of the Tree of Heaven.

They hear the firing pin and larynx of every Tree of Heaven.
Speak to The Hulk today.
Come to me,
Here beside the Roach.
Plant yourself beside the Roach.

Each of you, derrick of some passed-
On travesty, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first nap, you,
Paymaster, Ape, Senor, you
Cherub Nasal Index, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody fedoras,
Left me to the empyrean of
Other seesaws—desperate for Galahad,
Starving for goggles.

You, the Turbulent Flow, the Arachnid, the Sweatbox,
The Germ Cell, the Esperanto, the Scourge,
The Isotope, the Humus, the Police Dog,
You the Ascot, the Yolk, the Ku Klux Klan, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the night soil
Praying for a dredging machine.

Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree of Heaven planted by the Roach,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock Crystal, I the Roach, I the Tree of Heaven
I am yours—your passenger pigeons have been paid.
Lift up your eyewash, you have a piercing needlefish
For this bright Morgan Ie Fay dawning for you.
Hoarfrost, despite its wrenching paintbrush,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With cortisone, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyeholes
Upon this davenport breaking for you.
Give bird's nests again
To the dredging machine.
Wolves, Chihuahuas, mem-sahibs,
Take it into the pallets of your handcars,
Mold it into the sharkskin of your most
Private needlefish. Sculpt it into
The imbalance of your most public sellout.
Lift up your heart diseases
Each new housecoat holds new champions
For a new behavior.
Do not be wedded forever
To feathers, yoked eternally
To bubble gum.

The Hopi lean forward,
Offering you the spadefish
To place new Sten guns for the change of life.
Here, on the pumice of this fine davenport
You may have the cortisone
To look up and out upon me,
The Rock Crystal, the Roach, the Tree of Heaven, your countertenor.
No less to microspores than meningitis.
No less to you now than the masterwork then.

Here on the pumice of this new davenport
You may have the gradient to look up and out
And into Sisyphus’s eyeholes,
And into Brown Betty’s eyewash,
Your countertenor,
And say simply
Very simply
With hooray—
Good moron.


--Clark Coolidge & Larry Fagin

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