Both Amy and I had tears in our eyes after listening to Amanda Gorman yesterday. I knew America had a national poet laureate, but I didn’t know we had a national youth poet laureate. We’ve now had four; Amanda was the first.
Even if you heard her read The Hill We Climb yesterday, I encourage you to listen (and watch) again this morning. If you want to go on an intellectual exploration of it, the New York Times Lesson of the Day is Amanda Gorman and ‘The Hill We Climb.’
If, for you, like me, reading is a more powerful way to absorb or learn something, the following is the poem.
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.
The Hill We Climb
Dave Jilk was my first business partner (we co-founded Feld Technologies). The photo above is from Dave’s office at 155 Federal Street around 1991. We worked closely together for seven years before selling the company in 1993 to a public company called Sage Alerting Systems, which renamed itself Sage Technologies and then finally AmeriData Technologies. Well, at least the “Technologies” survived that naming transition …
Dave recently published a book of poetry titled Distilled Moments. I read it Sunday night and it’s delicious. If you are into poetry, a friend of Dave’s, or just want a taste of something different from your normal reading stuff, grab a copy.
If, when I met Dave in 1983, you had told me that he would become a poet later in his life, I would have spit out whatever food or drink was in my mouth at the time and rolled around on the ground laughing for a while. I think the only time I ever associated poetry and Dave in my mind is when he would use a phrase like “Physics for Poets” to describe a class at MIT I was considering taking.
Dave and I met on my second day in Cambridge in 1983. I spent my first day alone, feeling very confused and lonely as I wandered around MIT trying to figure out where I was. I crossed the Mass Ave bridge into Boston, had dinner by myself, and went to back to my assigned room in Baker House with three other guys, two of whom immediately got stoned and smoked pot for the rest of the evening (not my thing.)
The next afternoon was the MIT Freshman picnic. On a beautiful fall Cambridge day, Paul Gray (then president of MIT) gave a welcoming speech where, in typical MIT fashion, he said something like:
Look around. Your fellow freshmen are the best and brightest from around the world. Never forget that it is simple math that 50% of you will be in the bottom half of your class.
After talking for a few minutes, he ended by shouting “Let the Rush begin!”
Suddenly, hundreds of people descended on us with signs for their fraternities and living groups (there were no sororities at MIT in 1983.) Two guys I didn’t know – Mark Dodson and Ramanujam Manikkalingam – grabbed me and said, “Come with us.” I jumped in a van, was driven to ADP at 351 Mass Ave, and never left.
I met Dave that first night and we have been best friends ever since. He was a senior when I was a freshman, so we didn’t live together for that long, but we spent a lot of weekend time together. I became close with his first boss, Will Herman, and with Warren Katz (who we met through our seventh employee, Ilana Katz), continue to be extremely close friends.
Now that you’ve got the backstory, I’ll finish this post off with a few teasers from Distilled Moments that I loved.
Following is Twenty-Three, a poem about the morning after a night out together.
This one is my favorite business-related one, titled The Elephant in the Room.
I’ll end the teasers with the beginning of Take the Gloves Off, which is awesomely creative and full of business cliches.
There are many more. Support a friend, a Boulder-based poet, someone who I never expected would be a poet, or just a dear, dear friend by buying a copy of Distilled Moments.
I don’t know whether it was Jerry Colonna or my therapist who recommended this to me, but I listened to David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown yesterday on my evening run.
As part of my acceptance of midlife, which I define as the transition into the stage where you know you have fewer days to live than the number of days you have already lived, I’ve been exploring a bunch of different things. One of them is poetry, which has always been extremely difficult for me to read.
So, I decided to try a combination of poetry, memoir, and reflections by David Whyte on Audible. I usually run without headphones, but I’m trying to reacclimate to the roads around my house in Boulder after spending the summer on the trails in Aspen, so I thought I’d listen to a book on tape. I’d downloaded Midlife a few months ago and it was at the top of the Audible list on my phone, so I just rolled with it.
About two miles up St. Vrain, as I was approaching the left turn on 47th, I settled into a groove where everything fell away. Whyte has a beautiful voice and I realized that listening to poetry is a lot easier for me than reading poetry. And, as I transitioned into the flow state that is a good run after the first 20 or so minutes, a smile crossed my face.
When I finished my eight miles, I was almost done with the two-hour-long Audible recording that I listened to at 1.25x speed. Amy was downstairs watching the US Open so I made my recovery smoothie, got in the hot tub, and had a wonderful half-hour phone call with my dad where we just talked about life as the sun went behind the Flatirons.
As I get comfortable with midlife, I see more poetry in my future.
At the end of another intense year, after two weeks fighting a difficult cold, surrounded by snow, light, and quiet, this poem by John O’Donohue made its way to the surface, sent to me by my beloved soulmate. Happy new year.
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
While Amy loves poetry, I struggle with it. I find that I generally skim it and don’t really absorb it, unless I read it aloud and slowly. Yesterday, as I was listening to Jerry Colonna read a poem as part of something I did with him and a bunch of other Boulder entrepreneurs and I thought of a poetry book I read recently that I loved.
It’s Odes by Sharon Olds. Since it was poetry, and I knew I wanted to read it slowly, I bought it in hardcover instead of Kindle. I decided to read it in the bathroom so it would take me a while. Like a lot of guys I know, I enjoy sitting on my throne for 15 minutes reading – it’s a quiet place for me. So, I put Odes on the shelf in my master bathroom and read a few poems each time I emptied myself.
Sharon Olds deserves her Pulitzer Prize. She’s awesome. I think I noticed this book in the New York Times Book Review when I talked about all the dirty, sexy, human body part, and object odes she had written. My curiosity got the best of me and it was well worth it.
Who can resist a book that starts with an Ode to the Hymen. While there are plenty of other body part odes, we also get Ode of Broken Loyalty, Wind Ode, Ode to my Whiteness, Ode to the Condom, and an Ode to the Last Thirty-Eight Trees in New York City Visible from This Window.
I typically read two to three odes on each trip to the bathroom, but every now and then found myself finished with my business with the desire to read one more. Sexist Ode. San Francisco Bay Dawn Ode. Sick Couch Ode. Toxic Shock Ode. Ode to My Fat. My Mother’s Flashlight Ode. Merkin Ode.
There are seven sections. I have no idea how Olds segments these sections – there was no rhyme or reason from my frame of reference. Trilobite Ode. O of Multiple O’s. Donner Party Mother Ode.
It ended with ABRACADABRA Ode which I thought was brilliant.
Henceforth, I will read poetry on the toilet. Any good recommendations?