Friday, April 19, 2013

Presidents/Poems

America's present need is not heroics but healing.
~Pres. Warren G. Harding (b.1865–d.1923)


Today, we have a poem by Thomas Jefferson, and poems about election day, Mary Lincoln, and Jimmy Carter. We'll start with Mr. Jefferson, whose poem says goodbye to his daughter, Martha Randolph:

A death-bed Adieu. ThJ to MR.

Life's visions are vanished, its dreams are no more.
Dear friends of my bosom, why bathed in tears?
I go to my fathers; I welcome the shore,
which crowns all my hopes, or which buries my cares.
Then farewell my dear, my lov'd daughter, Adieu!
The last pang in life is in parting from you.
Two Seraphs await me, long shrouded in death;
I will bear them your love on my last parting breath.



Thomas Jefferson. Painting by Mather Brown

************

Election Day, November, 1884
by Walt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones—nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi's stream:
—This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

************

MARY
by Diane Mayr

She was dismissed
like a petulant child
and did not see
him breathe his last.

She cried out
as his catafalque
was constructed
within her home

the workmen's
hammers ringing
all day, all night.
Each percussive blow,

reminiscent of
the single bullet
that simultaneously
shattered his brain

and her heart,
leaving her forever
bandaged in black
and him shrouded

in legend.

************

President-Poet
by Tabatha Yeatts
for J.C.

My husband offers me his arm
in the brisk December air
and we cross the crowded lot to the
bookstore, where the line is almost
out the door, almost, but not quite,
and I am grateful for the mercy
of an indoor line and places to lean against
as I hold your book in one hand
and my heavy belly with the other.

I shift my weight uncomfortably as I wait,
too tired to be truly impatient,
in the long line that winds slowly to you.
I am one strangely-shapen leg
in a lengthy human caterpillar that flows up
the stairs to the table where you are signing books.
We cannot linger but must continue past you,
the leaf that we all want a bite of.

I wait, my teal sweater stretching
over the baby who is nearly here,
my hair pulled back in a ponytail
away from a face that is round
even when it isn't nine months pregnant.
You seem both frail and stalwart,
signing your name over and over,
over and over again,
dedicated to this crazy proposition -- poetry --
and I sag against the wall, stubbornly determined
to support you in this strange endeavor.

What pushes you, whose exterior
was analyzed so deeply and relentlessly,
to offer your inner workings, your
edges, your long breaths, reaching for the sun? Perhaps
you know that among politicians, there are many
who can understand deception, but few who
can fathom an honest verse.

I watch your purple-haired
illustrator-granddaughter
smiling as she also signs the books,
see your pride as you glance over.
Finally, I reach you and you look at me,
at the signs of the butterfly
that won't stay long in this chrysalis,
and surprise flickers across your face
that I waited for you. Mr President,
how could I not come bear witness
to your paper-baby, fluttering away
with your heart as fast
as you can sign your name?

************

Links:

* Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander, a poem for Barack Obama's presidential inauguration.
* More info on Presidents as Poets from the Library of Congress
* Poetry Politics and Culture around the World
* Wordy Fibs from earlier in the week.

Irene has the Poetry Friday round-up at Live Your Poem...

9 comments:

Linda at teacherdance said...

Wow, Tabatha, these are all beautiful, but that memory you captured in the Jimmy Carter poem is wonderful, a stop in time for you. I love the caterpillar metaphor, the thought of respect for this 'poet president', your persistence even in weariness. Thanks for all. I didn't know the other poems.

Diane Mayr said...

I second what Linda just said! The caterpillar metaphor is just so apt!

And thanks for featuring my poem, today. Poor Mary Lincoln.

Irene Latham said...

Like Diane, I find Mary Todd a fascinating character.. and sad. Love your poem, Tabatha... I do wonder about that, the push, where it comes from. Thank you for making me ponder. xo

Author Amok said...

Wow, Diane's portrait poem is evocative of grief -- the emotion -- even though she focuses on one woman's story.

Tabatha -- it's great to see your presidential poem! I love the detail of the purple haired granddaughter.

Jone said...

Such great choice. The purple hired granddaughter love this detail.

Mary Lee said...

Really loved Diane's and yours. Such sharply remembered moments in time.

Joyce Ray said...

I love Diane's and Tabatha's poems and these lines especially:

..."leaving her forever
bandaged in black
and him shrouded

in legend."

"Mr President,
how could I not come bear witness
to your paper-baby, fluttering away
with your heart as fast
as you can sign your name?"

Renee LaTulippe said...

Oh, my goodness. These are all amazing. Diane's poem is heart-wrenching, that image of being tossed aside and shooed away "like a petulant child." Wow.

And Tabatha, your poem is a tour de force. Another wow for your imagery, your memory, your "paper-baby." Brava!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I know I'm late to this party, Tabatha, but I just had to tell you how much I love, love, love your tribute poem to Jimmy Carter. While I can only imagine what he wrote in his personal reply, I do know that *anyone* would be honored to be the subject of such an honest and beautiful poem.