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Inuaugural Poem by Dr. Ronald Jenkins

Let Us Pause Together for a Day
(Composed in Close Consultation with the Good Gray Poet, Lover of Democracy, Walt Whitman, 1819-1892)

 

Today I saw a woman with her papers fallen in disarray, and though I had other business, I stopped. And having paused, I saw: a woman wrapped in raiment of her ideas.

 

I saw a man trespassing on the yard today and called him neighbor; I see him again

wrapped in rays of the sun. I see myself in the sunrays, in my idea.

 

Here is the idea I had: Democracy. A man in work clothes in the hall, yardmen and clerks

and professors, artists and chemists and business people, bustling or loafing along

the concrete Paths, poets and poetry-haters, historians and work-study, phone operators and deans, all walking forward.

 

(Do you note them all walking forward and not backward?)

 

I see them and pause and call them Citizen. They look back at me

and we give the password primeval, the sign of democracy.

 

So much we owe to Walt Whitman, the bard

and first author of lines like these, and lines identical, for he lives

and breathes, a hawk from the past, in the sky of these lines.

 

I, Ronald; you, Cynthia Bambara-all of you: we give the password

primeval, the sign of democracy. Differing

in work, differing in wage, differing in prospect and age

differing in status and self-no matter; it is as good to cook

as to have wealth, to profess as to take Math,

to administer as teach class.

 

Walt Whitman said, I give the password primeval, I give the sign of democracy.

 

Walt Whitman said, Stop this day and night with me and you shall know the origin of all poems.

 

I think Walt would also say: stop this season, all collected, secretaries and deans

and groundsmen arrayed;

Pause by, professors and adjunct professors and freshmen stayed;

 

Sophomores, professionals, the highly-paid;

female students, male students, gay, transgendered in twain;

directors and technicians and electricians-delayed

 

for this one short period, to consider an occasion, an idea, a vision.

 

Just pause-read carefully, watch closely; do it again each day  

and you shall know the origin

of learning, know your aims and the origin of your aims and what you aim

to achieve.

 

You shall know the holiness of failure because all fail and all triumph emanates

from failure. There is no imperfection in the present and can be none in the future,

says Walt.

 

Stop this season in Pennsylvania, in Maryland, in September sun;

stop right here on the fuming asphalt.

Stop in Somerset snows (for you will have to)

and peer at our towns and the ripples in the land

and at the dismal buildings that are now dark mills (for stillness

in the mills is an oddity

we disapprove).

Stop and survey the hopeless and abandoned,

the unparented and homeless

because to deny them is falsehood and we will not have it.

They, autochthonous from their fathers and their fathers before,

rising as if from land and time, claim so little:

this street, this slope, my little hope, this prospect over the towns, they are mine

too. And they are.

Pause and consider newcomers amidst us: Strangers?

Are we not all strangers in our own land, and have not strangers origin too?

 

I say, pause and consider the poets, which brings us again

back to Old Walt: he was always loafing

and content to be loafing, and conjuring lines

about whoever came up before him. "Canuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman"

were all the same, said he. To be a woman was as good as being a man.

And to be African or Indian, brown, black, indigenous, Asian, Australian, white; Alaskan, Argentine: alike; continental, islander, at sea-all mixed,

mestizo, Melungeon, mutt-all were equal-and he knew it (ahead of his time).

 

Uncle Walt, we know you: a lover of men and women.

From you, from democracy, we say: all colors and outer forms

and inner forms and sex and identification

are the same. We declare it and it is declared

for us. We give the password of Democracy;

we breathe that password primeval, for there are no artifices

among us; we labor in crude offices,

at dawn on the lawns; we work in the dusk

with light on our desks, and at night, when tall lamps

spill light on our labor;

we labor in halls and on carts and we cut grass;

we labor as vice presidents, as guards and librarians

wise, as custodians and teachers and tutors;

technicians, electricians-visionaries;

clerks, publishers-prophets:

for our legacy is our energy

and our energy flows along the wires and signals

in air, our energy flows in the walls and in the space

between us and within us.

 

* * *

 

In such declaration, we arrive now at an interval:

a new college, but an old college inside;

the inauguration of a new president, but old inaugurations our guide.

We celebrate ourselves,

For every atom of the past

As good belongs to us;

Every simple blackboard, every course design,

Every single cable, every single blind,

All the syllabi and roll calls and vines and lines;

All the budgets and bylaws, hallways and stairways divine-

Divine Democracy! Equality, sing!

These goods belong

in every union

Of face to face, of place to place,

Of time and space.

 

We, Allegany College, fifty years old and in good health,

Hoping not to cease til due is done

Til work is done

Til surcease of grounds and mission,

Today we pause:

 

Enlightenment to one and all who want it;

Equality our goals and methods-all one.