I Was On Stage at Carnegie Hall Last Night!

poets on stage

On Stage at Carnegie Hall

Well, the “Carnegie Carnegie”—at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, PA, my hometown.

The poetry reading was really exceptional, and I was very proud to be in the company of nine members of the Pittsburgh Poetry Society reading their own works and those of a few others related to the Civil War.

I am not one of the poets in this photo, but I was right in company with the way I was dressed. I guess most of us “creative types” dress a little differently. I prefer to think of it as decorating myself.

I’d like to share my poem from last night, and I wish I could share all of them. (I’ll be posting daily again soon, and catching up on lost photo time!)

THE MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY

I begin with an epigraph, the closing paragraph of Lincoln’s first inaugural address:
I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stre[t]ching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

And so do we remember, in this time of change,
Another time of strife and uncertainty
When our nation would be pulled apart
Not by something so esoteric as a failing economy
But by the real threat of war, among ourselves, on our own soil;
Not a metaphorical war, not of words and ideas,
But of guns and blood,
And brothers and fathers and mothers and sisters,
Neighbors and friends, everyone, no one would escape its reach.
And so we fought that war, and though severely wounded, we survived.

Yet a century later we were still fighting this battle in our streets.
We forgot those who had already given the last full measure of devotion1 for this cause.
We were reminded that we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools2,
And that the fierce urgency of Now3 demanded that we make real the promises of democracy4,
Echoing the words of a century before, and even a century before that.
But we took away his dream, too,
And the dreams of others
Until the bloodshed frightened us,
Reminded that a balance cannot exist without compromise,
And an uncompromising nature destroys everything in its path, including itself.

I remember those days of my childhood,
Of the fledgling hope that we could simply live together in understanding,
But I watched people tuck away their hatred to keep for another day
And it only grew distorted,
And a half century later, we still fought the battle in our hearts.
But to my great surprise and joy,
I watched a nation of people,
Touched by the better angels of their nature5,
March to the promised land6,
Happily wait all day, finally cast their vote
For change, for hope, and for love of this great experiment in liberty and freedom,
Ready to begin again the work of remaking America7.

1Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address”, dedication of the battlefield at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863.
2Martin Luther King, Jr., quote.
3Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, speech given at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.
4Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream”, speech given at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.
5Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address”, given in Washington, D.C., March 4, 1861.
6Martin Luther King, Jr., “I See the Promised Land”, speech given in Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968.
7Barack Obama, “Inaugural Address”, given in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2009.

“The Mystic Chords of Memory” © 2009 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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