On the Biden Inauguration
1. Trump's Copter Lifts off the West Lawn
Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand.
Time to drag out that old CD of the Dead
at the Mosque in Richmond Virginia May 25th
1978 and let your tired kishkas have a jiggle.
Darkness has fled, or at least retreated.
Joy, say the Hasidim is the truest expression of piety.
We are baring our arms for the vaccine
and thanking God with our awkward boogie.
Remember how our long (alas) hair
would fan us as we spun at the Fillmore?
2. Speaking of Twirling
Allen Ginsberg reading at Berkeley, 1966
a thousand students Sufi twirling
to his Blake harmonium.
Merrily, merrily we welcome in the year.
He has us supply a final noun, picks one
and holds it: merrily, merrily
we welcome in our death.
Afterward I'm walking him across campus
with Peter Orlovsky and a flowing woman
he called his guru Maitreya
to Ahimsa, our communal house
on Haste Street. I'm nineteen
spend days smoking hash and listening
to Surrealistic Pillow. After dinner
Allen invites us to go along to his next stop
a fraternity house on Piedmont. We whoop
down the street like a hipster army
but he turns to shush us—
identifying the edge where innocence
becomes its opposite.
Are there any poets here who rhyme
like William Blake? he asks
and a shy boy pulls a poem out
of his pocket and begins to read.
When Jake had his break in high school
and I stayed up night after night
listening to him rave and struggle
I learned what the fear of losing a child
can do to you, and Biden lost two
including Beau, his Jake
his everything. Here he is
on TV, standing by the reflection pool
lined with candles for the Covid dead.
To heal we must remember
he tells us, and I think of "Kaddish"
Ginsberg's mother saying
the key is in the sunlight at the window
and Kaddish the prayer, never mentioning
death, glorify and sanctify
the world He has created.
4. New Glasses
Biden is like lens number two
at the eye doctor, fiddling
with the astigmatism
till you can see it's an "E."
But Folly is an endless maze
writes Blake at the end
of Songs of Experience—
Q believing anti-vaxxers
or me carrying Mao's little red book
inside my p-coat—
—How many have fallen there.
Five years older than me
Biden and his friends
"stepped past with disdain" a group
of anti-war protesters at Syracuse
while Stop the Draft Week, 1967
Oakland cop's nightstick grazes me
and lands square on my roommate's
forehead. Arms linked we rise
and scream for a medic.
A runaway truck smashed
teetotaler Biden's life
just as the receding tide of excess
left ours in disarray. Single father
Biden riding the Metroliner
home to his boys each night
Toby and I adopting Jacob
after years of trying.
How shall we gather what griefs destroy?
asks Blake. Only as bits of light
sparks in shards, released
by acts of kindness.
6. Jerusalem on the Potomac
When I was middle school I decided
it would be cool to stutter.
a..a..a.. alligator I practiced
till I found in horror I couldn't stop—
lesson that what you imagine
becomes your reality.
Biden, as a child, overcame his stutter
memorizing Yeats' Easter 1916
learning to see the whole sentence
in his mind before he spoke it—
years later flashing his now-fluid tongue
over the alliteration of hope and history
quoting Heaney on the campaign trail.
But Blake wants more from a president
then an eloquent performance
of selfhood: the Human Imagination
O Savior pour upon me thy spirit
as Biden, in self-knowledge and rectitude
calls on Amanda Gorman
his female emanation
to rhyme dare with repair
merge mercy and might
and establish from the sunbaked south
to the lake-rimmed cities of the midwest
the country her thin fingers
conduct into existence.
David Shaddock, PhD is a poet and psychotherapist. His most recent poetry book is A Book of Splendor: New and Selected Poems on Spiritual Themes. He is also the author of Poetry and Psychoanalysis: The Opening of the Field, from Routledge, and two books on relationships and couples therapy. He lectures widely on those topics, and maintains a private practice in Berkeley.