Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘Inaugural,’ by Kathy Engel

800px-Selma_to_Montgomery_MarchesAmericans participating in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
Photo by Peter Pettus (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In his recent Oscar acceptance speech for “Best Original Song,” John Legend, who co-wrote “Glory” for the film Selma, poignantly reminded us: “Selma is now. The struggle for justice is now.” From the tears on the faces in the room that night, there seemed to be a collective agreement that we, as a nation, are at a crossroads.  At this very moment, our featured poet, Kathy Engel, is in Selma, Alabama. She is marching with thousands this weekend as they commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery that sparked the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Engel generously shares “Inaugural” on this date as a call to action and as a guiding light as we, in our own lives, fight our battles—both personal and political. Her words impress upon us the urgency of “now” as the time “to be brave, to build, and to lie down in the street for justice.”



Now is the time
to be generous,
now is the time to be brave
and patient
to watch how the dove
tails up, blinks, sits
tight over invisible eggs.

Now is the time to protect,
a time to risk,
now is the time to mother
to become curious,
now is the time to father
the time to be a child
and hear the world’s
breath striped as a zebra,
now is the time to caulk blood
and worship water.

Now is the time to build
to speckle and spackle
enough love to keep the species
all the species
going, now is the time to listen
to a porcupine
follow a lizard,
now is the time to undress
now is the time to redress
dance to the music of our youth
as if we’re still young
accepting our turtle bodies.
Now is the time to hear our children’s music.

Now is the time to grow garlic
and give it away,
to see time as a lover,
acrobatic, responsive, torso
familiar as a soft vowel.

Now is the time to remember when you were an animal
lying in a field in the warm horse snort,
newly cut grass turning to hay.

Now is still the time to lie down in the street
for justice and also construct new
consonants out of carrots, cement, unknown
particles, and compassion, shielding that
word in the body as the closest companion,
the time to build windows
ushering edible light and to mirror
the bonobo.

Now is the time to knock on the door of
a neighbor whose mouth and hands
you’ve never studied as she speaks her
map of days from the corners of her mouth
to the opening of her palm
a time to inhale the swallows’ cacophony
in treetops and imagine the listening
of a whole world.

 © 2012 Kathy Engel

Used with the permission of the poet. Published in Foreign Policy in Focus/Fiesta online and in Spare Change, a publication created by and for people who are homeless.


ke pr photo by Phillippe

Photo by Philippe Cheng

Kathy Engel is a poet, educator, cultural worker, and facilitator. She has worked for more than 35 years at the intersection of art, imagination, and social justice/change, co-founding, directing, and advising numerous organizations and projects, including MADRE, Riptide Communications, East End Women in Black. She is co-founder and co-director, with Alexis De Veaux, of Lyrical Democracies and its Center for Poetic Healing. Her books include Ruth’s Skirts (IKON) and We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon (Interlink Books), which she co-edited with Kamal Boullata. Poems have recently appeared in the anthology The Lake Rises and The Wide Shore, forthcoming in Poet Lore. She is Associate Professor and Chair of the Art and Public Policy Department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Twitter: @NYUArtsPolitics
Facebook: NyuTischArtAndPublicPolicy



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  • Holly Boyle March 8, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Thanks you for this Sunday morning gift. Coffee, a croissant and this. Perfect.