I hear America singing. – Walt Whitman
In the middle of a meeting a man blurts out, we might have a woman for president! or a black man! and the rest of us pausing study him to see if anything else is forthcoming. His look of desperation implores us to consider the possibility, to contemplate the dire ramifications, but none of us offer condolences or consolation.
Finally, after a long uncertain pause, I say, rich white guys haven’t done such a good job of it. Maybe it’s time for a change.
Another meeting, a man with small, fine teeth like a rodent chuckles and says, I hear he won’t last long anyway. The room grows cold as if someone opened a door onto a December gale letting it rush unopposed through the corridors and hallways to gather in the recesses of the room like an unseen presence, and his eyes dart from one to the other as the smirk on his face freezes in place like a rictus on a week-old corpse.
You’d like that, wouldn’t you, I want to say, but hold my tongue and regret it immediately. As I yet regret it, and know with cold certainty that it will remain regretted for all time.
This is not the time to be silent. It is time to stand for what we believe.
The man’s a socialist, a McCain supporter tells a British reporter. Several other people standing nearby nod their heads sagely.
What’s a socialist, the reporter asks.
It’s, it’s, it’s, he stammers. The others look away.
A black man on the radio says, I can’t believe this is happening. Not in my lifetime.
He says, women knew it was coming, they never had a doubt. They accepted it as a fact of life. We couldn’t.
I’m gonna be there, he says. I’m going to D.C.
In our own ways, by one means or another, we all went to D.C.
At some indefinite point in the future I suspect people will remember where they were the moment the first black president of the United States was sworn in, as how some of us of a certain age remember where we were when JFK was shot. I was on my way home from school, or I was sent home without explanation (which might have been the case, my memory clear as mud), and walked in on my mother who sat on the edge of the couch staring at the television, her hand over her mouth.
That’s where I was: 3420 Palomas N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico.
On the morning of the inauguration I watch out the window as crows boil from the treeline like hornets disturbed from their nest, raucous, jeering, their dark winged shapes passing over the fields in regimented black phalanxes. The hill beyond shimmers in a frigid haze, the sky low and gray, a winter day but unlike any other. Though I have work to do I click on the Internet and set the streaming audio to run while I wrestle with verbs and nouns and phrases I fear make little sense compared to what’s transpiring halfway across the country. All those people swelling the streets and parks, the largest assemblage ever in that city, I’m told, an unimaginable throng of Americans excited about change and the prospect of hope, a fragile emotion, and one at odds with headlines and news reports.
A friend says, looks like a new day dawning. I, for one, am finally finding some pride in my country. We haven't done a good job with our children, our native Americans, our race relations—the list goes on.
Another man says, I’m afraid to watch, I’m afraid something bad will happen. And watches anyway.
For some reason I think bells should be ringing but I hear nothing but the crows. Looking out the window I see them littering the field like windlbown bits of black plastic, the world beyond reduced to a monochromatic landscape, two-dimensional, flat.
For some reason, I think the sun should be shining.
Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet, stands at the podium and tells the world, in today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
My sentences are going nowhere so I stop to watch the pageant. The scenes of our national leaders, the senators and legislators, the lawyers and hangers-on, leave me cold and a little disheartened, but when the cameras pan to the massive throng an electric current passes through me. Watching the faces I see raw emotion of a kind not witnessed in years, and I think, this is America, this is what it stands for, what it is.
Within minutes the transformation is complete. I can’t help but feel our long national nightmare is over, and yet I know the real work begins now, and it’s not just the job of one man, it’s our job. We the people. Time to roll up our sleeves and get busy.
My friend says, will it go well, I don’t know. I can't believe some of the stuff I hear coming out of people's mouths. Many, very close to home. We haven't learned much, I'm afraid. Maybe, just maybe, we can make this work. I hope so.
Outside, the clouds break apart. The sun comes out and a cardinal sings.
I start a new sentence.