Celebrate January 6…By Reading a Good Poem

For a good portion of this country–I like to think–the insurrection of January 6, 2021, was a horrifying event. That means January 6, 2022, will be a horrible anniversary. But I’ve found a soaring bridge of words to carry me over.

Remember Amanda Gorman, the incandescent young poet who helped inaugurate Joe Biden just two weeks after the insurrection?

Warms me up just to look at her

A friend of mine just loaned me her book, Call Us What We Carry. And while my usual routine is to read one poem every morning, before looking at any news headlines, Ms. Gorman’s words just keep calling me along. At this rate I’ll be looking for new poetry next week.

Image from Indiebound.org

I can open this book almost at random and find pain to connect with and hope to move forward with. This young woman understands COVID pain: …“March shuddered into a year,/Sloshing with millions of lonely,/An overcrowded solitude…”

She understands historical pain: “We might not be fully sure of all that we are/& yet we have endured all that we were.”

As I peek ahead toward the pages at the end, I see this young woman also understands form and fancy, playing with shapes and types of poetry new to me, but still inviting. There is DARK stuff here, like the poem “Anonymous”, printed in white upon a black face mask:

We stumbled, sick with shame, groping for each other/in that heaving black. We were mouthless for months./We could’ve been grinning. We could’ve been grimacing./We could’ve been glass.& so, we must ask: /Who were we beneath our mask./Who are we now that it is trashed.

But then comes the hope. A fierce, determined, Maya Angelou-style hope. I’ll leave you with a ray of that hope, for January 6 and beyond–Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Shallows”:

Touch-deficient &

Light-starved we were,

Like an inverted flame,

Eating any warmth down to its studs.

The deepest despair is ravenous,

It takes & takes & takes,

A stomach never satisfied.

This is not hyperbole.

All that is gorgeous & good & decent

Is no luxury, not when its void

Brings us to the wide wharf of war.

Even as we stand stone-still,

It’s with the entirety of what we’ve lost

Sweeping through us like a ghost

What we have lived

Remains indecipherable.

& yet we remain.

& still, we write.

& so, we write.

Watch us move above the fog

Like a promontory at dusk.

Shall this leave us bitter?

Or better?

Grieve.

Then choose.