“Yes We Can,” an inaugural poem by Marvin Bell
Marvin Bell has written a fine poem on an impossible subject. In its sweep, yet anchored in strong, precise images that anchor the ideas that America was founded on...in its inclusion of family, of people who work with both hands and heads...for me, it's a true poem---perhaps even a great poem---of the beat of what is most uplifting about us as Americans and the way of life we have crafted over the relatively short time since our birth as a nation.
You can also see Marvin Bell's "Yes We Can" in the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper on page 9A, available online by clicking this link (go to the full article for the live link).
Marvin Bell, who served two terms as the State of Iowa's first Poet Laureate, and who caucused for Obama in Iowa, wrote this poem at the request of an Obama supporter. The most recent of Mr. Bell's nineteen collections of poetry is Mars Being Red, published in 2007 by Copper Canyon Press.
Yes, We Can
On the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America, Jan. 20, 2009.
by Marvin Bell
We are a people who began from a Yes,
A nation born of the yes in the farmland,
The yes engraved in the dirt and stone,
In the mines, in the sea, in the machines
That made girders that made cities,
In the big ideas that make us human,
In the yes that comes to every street
Where there endures a love of forebears
And a net for children when they fall,
Where there was a yes to “Let’s try,”
And a yes, we can do better, and a yes
That grew to enfold our largest America.
Yes to the high-rise ironworker, yes
To the diggers of tunnels and the pilots,
Yes to those still on line, to the makers,
The builders, the haulers, the guardians,
To the teachers who had to make do.
It is the yes that sings, and lights up the dark.
It is the yes in the myriad colors of unity,
And in what it means to be a grownup.
In the gasoline rainbows by the curb
As the parent takes his child to school
And the parent takes her lunch bucket to work,
And the father carries his papers
And the schoolchild her homework,
The carpenter her measure, the fisherman his tackle,
And who dares say, no we can’t, at sunup?
Have you heard the cry of yes in the newborn
At his mother’s breast, and heard the yes
Whispering in the fields at harvest time?
There is a yes that will not be shushed
In the head of the scientist weary at her desk
And in the doctor as he studies the x-rays
After hours. We are the yes from every continent,
The yes born of flesh and blood that came
By steerage and slave ship, the manyness
Of all who were this nation’s first people
Or came after, by many paths, whatever it took.
We have been an aggregate of wishes
And hopes, of the future, of blessings, of aches
And pleasure, of the sacred liberties
For which families have labored and grieved.
We still want to say yes, yes to equality,
Yes to the best in us, yes and yes to the idea
That we will be judged by what we do for others
For free, and so we have said yes, and yes again,
One nation, one people, and yes, we can.
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