Friday, January 23, 2009

Oath of Office


Poet Frank Bidart writes about the odd and confounding ritual of issuing in a new President with "Inauguration Poem", a skimpy , momentarily evocative lyric that promises to deliver a moral , but evaporates on the breeze instead. Just as well, really, since these slight stanzas are murmurings instead of exclamations, whispers rather that shouts. Bidart wants to write about the unnamed expectations come to be focused on the taking of the oath. With or without the new president's hand on the Bible, the varieties of disappointment will reign soon enough; even a god would have trouble solving every citizen's concern and dissolving each citizens unease with the empty sound that attends every step. There are no laws against loneliness.This is poem dwells on the idea that what we're actually dealing with as we witness an inauguration is ritual meant to stir ghosts; the past is present and constantly influencing the future, as the sage remarked, and Bidart attempts to isolate some elements of the allure that attracts the best and worst of us. It's a collective point where head strong notions of putting things right which have strayed off course , grossly so, in the presence of a president who'll mount an assault on erring policies and social injustice, a public that desires a change in direction, the sociopaths, the malcontents, the would be assassins who want to strike a blow against the organized brutality the state and the institutions have made his or her world.

Today, despite what is dead

staring out across America I see since
Lincoln gunmen
nursing fantasies of purity betrayed,
dreaming to restore
the glories of their blood and state...


Expectation, hope, rage, rebellion, collective will--a noisy, bickering mess trying to sort itself out and praying for consensus as the new man takes an oath to do his best. Sometimes we make the right choice, history seems to smile and matters work themselves out in ways that amaze us and perhaps make us aware of a hesitant miracle taking place. Too soon, though, our basic interest, our native centers of concern, take credit for the good, we lay blame too easily out side our sphere, we destroy Eden once again with our will to have our way.

under the lustrous flooding moon
the White House is still
Whitman's White House, its
gorgeous front
full of reality, full of illusion


There is always the chance to start over,though, this work in progress--this is a government as the boulder we roll up the hill, only to start over once it rolls down again.That seems the center essence of democracy quite dispite what Presidents have to say about it--we are and will continue to clean up the mess we've made of things, to contend with the bad hands we've been dealt, the sorry slices of pie we've been served. It's not about the getting, it's about the doing, and the spectres Bidart invokes at the margins serve to compel us to keep the wretched machine humming along.