Elegant Inspiration from our Poet Laureate & the Stars

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Two different things worked together to bring elegance to my life this week ~ images from the James Webb Space Telescope and a poem by the United States’ newest Poet Laureate, Ada Limón.

The James Webb Space Telescope sent us celestial images I can only describe as poetry in motion. It’s impossible for me to fathom a 10 billion dollar satellite taking photos from one million miles away. According to NASA, the very faintest blips of light in the photos are of galaxies as they existed more than 13 billion years ago. The images confirmed for me that we are part of an incomprehensibly elegant universe.

Meanwhile, life here on planet Earth unfolded as usual. The antics of our fellow earthlings brought bad news, sad news, infuriating news, confusing news, and worrisome news. Among some good news this week was the appointment of Ada Limón as the country’s 24th Poet Laureate. Coincidentally, Limón published a poem titled Dead Stars in 2018.

In the poem, Limón contemplates what amazing creations we are. She believes that in the midst of our ordinary lives, we have the potential to do big things for each other and for our planet. You might even call it everyday elegance.

Excerpt from Dead Stars by Ada Limón ~

We point at the stars that make
Orion as we take out the trash,
the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the
waxy blue recycling bin until you say,
Man, we should really learn some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting 
about Antilia, Centaurus, Draco,
Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re
dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising –

To lean in the spotlight of streetlight
with you, toward
what’s larger within us,
how we were born.

Look we’re not unspectacular things,
We’ve come this far, survived this much.

What would happen if we decided to survive more?
To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said,
No. No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night,
if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky,
made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows
they make in their minds

rolling their trash bins out,
after all of this is over?

I urge you to read the poem more than once and think about what our Poet Laureate is asking us to do. As we try to comprehend those spectacular photos sent to us by the James Webb Telescope, let’s consider our human potential and be inspired to shine a little brighter. §

“But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars, too.” 
~Ada Limón, Dead Stars

Featured Art ~ The James Webb Space Telescope’s image of the Carina Nebula, 2022

‘The Hill We Climb’ ~ inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman

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The Hill We Climb by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry.
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. §

Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate and first national youth poet laureate, delivered her poem The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Simply reading the words of her poem is like reading the lyrics to a song. To truly capture the rhythm, rhyme, mood, and promise of this powerful poem, please experience Gorman’s beautiful inauguration day performance. You can watch it at https://youtu.be/LZ055ilIiN4