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It's Election Day! If you haven't voted yet, I implore you stop reading and go do so. I care not what you're voting for, I wish only to see you participating. It's the only weapon we have against the (mostly) guys in charge.

For Election Day 2006, I've chosen a selection of poems about American democracy. I urge you to read them all, because they're all bloody brilliant, and all but one of them is short.

"Election Day" by William Carlos Williams provides a subtle reminder of the condition of our democracy. Don't let this discourage you...vote anyway, and resolve to fix it up in future elections.

"Election Day, November, 1884" by Walt Whitman was written in response to one of the most rancorous, negative, and bitterly contested elections in American history. Yes, even then they had perfected mudslinging to a cruel science. Despite the nature of that election, Whitman celebrates something larger than a single election, larger than the man who won: the power of the choosing itself. "While the heart pants, life glows" - a hopeful truth.

And finally, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda celebrates, during a visit to America, the democracy of rail-splitter Abraham Lincoln, and wishes for an awakening in our modern world. What's printed here is merely an excerpt from "Let The Rail Splitter Awake", but it's one of my all-time favorite pieces of poetry and well worth your time.

On Election Day 2006, "Let us think of the entire earth / and pound the table with love."

Election Day
by William Carlos Williams

Warm sun, quiet air
an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house--

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

Election Day, November, 1884
by Walt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara-nor you, ye limitless prairies-nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite-nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyserloops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones-nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes-nor Mississippi's stream:
-This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name-the still small voice vibrating-America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen-the act itself the main, the quadrennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd-sea-board and inland-Texas to Maine-the Prairie States-Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West-the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling-(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity-welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
-Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify-while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

An Excerpt from
Let the Rail Splitter Awake
by Pablo Neruda

V.
Let none of this happen.
Let the Rail Splitter awake.
Let Abe come with his axe
and his wooden plate
to eat with the farmers.
Let his head like tree-bark,
his eyes like those in wooden-planks
and oak-tree boles,
turn to look on the world
rising above the foliage
higher than the sequoias.
Let him buy something in a drugstore
let him take a bus to Tampa
let him bite into a yellow apple
and enter a moviehouse to converse
with all the simple people.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Let Abe come, let his aged yeast raise
the green and gold earth of Illinois,
let him lift up his axe in his own town
against the new slaveholders
against the slave-lash
against the poisoned printing-press
against the bloodied merchandise
they want to sell.
Let them march singing and smiling,
the young white, the young Negro,
against the walls of gold
against the manufacturer of their blood,
let them sing, laugh and conquer.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Peace for the twilights to come,
peace for the bridge, peace for the wine,
peace for the stanzas which pursue me
and in my blood uprise entangling
my earlier songs with earth and loves,
peace for the city in the morning
when bread wakes up, peace for the Mississippi,
source of rivers,
peace for my brother’s shirt,
peace for books like a seal of air,
peace for the great kolkhoz of Kiev,
peace for the ashes of those dead
and of these other dead, peace for the grimy
iron of Brooklyn, peace for the letter-carrier
who from house to house goes like the day,
peace for the choreographer who shouts
through a funnel to the honeysuckle vine,
peace for my own right hand
that wants to write only Rosario,
peace for the Bolivian, secretive
as a lump of tin, peace
so that you may marry, peace for all
the saw-mills of Bio-Bio,
peace for the torn heart of guerilla Spain,
peace for the little museum in Wyoming
where the most lovely thing
is a pillow embroidered with a heart,
peace for the baker and his loaves,
and peace for the flour, peace
for all the wheat to be born,
for all the love which will seek its tasselled shelter,
peace for all those alive: peace
for all lands and all waters.

Here I say farewell, I return
to my house, in my dreams
I return to Patagonia where
the wind rattles the barns
and the ocean spatters ice.
I am nothing more than a poet: I love all of you,
I wander about the world I love;
in my country they gaol miners
and soldiers give orders to judges.
But I love even the roots
in my small cold country,
if I had to die a thousand times over
it is there I would die,
if I had to be born a thousand times over
it is there I would be born
near the tall wild pines
the tempestuous south wind
the newly purchased bells.
Let none think of me.
Let us think of the entire earth
and pound the table with love.
I don’t want blood again
to saturate bread, beans, music:
I wish they would come with me:
the miner, the little girl,
the lawyer, the seaman,
the doll-maker,
to go into a movie and come out
to drink the reddest wine.
I did not come to solve anything.
I came here to sing
and for you to sing with me.

From somewhere in the Americas, May 1948


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