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The Electorate Process Inspires ‘Election Day’ Poem

November 7, 2008 at 6:50 PM EDT
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In the week that Americans cast their ballots and elected Sen. Barack Obama to the presidency, J.D. McClatchy, a professor, poet and critic, reads "Election Day," a poem about voting.

JIM LEHRER: And before we go tonight, one more voice on yesterday’s vote, that of poet J.D. McClatchy reading his poem, “Election Day.”


Election Day

The older couples had voted just after dawn,

And by noon the exit polls are underway.

Some talking head opines in San Jose.

A poster leans mute and silent on the lawn.

“As the wind blows, so the flag will wave,”

Says a cynic who is nevertheless waiting in line.

The woman in front of him has been assigned

The nearest booth where she plans, again, to save

The Republic from itself – the drama played out

In this miniature theater, with its curtain and cast.

Today will be a performance of the past,

Its fortunes and flaws, its certainty and doubt.

The pencil has no eraser. She makes her choice,

Determined but still uncertain how it will end,

As the Founders were as well who thought to lend

So much importance to each small impassioned voice.

But will the cynics vote now cancel hers?

She stays behind to watch him enter the booth.

(In our democracy, we think the truth

Is what everyone, regardless, secretly prefers.)

She won’t know anything but threats and trends

Until, again in the dark, but midnights now,

She can sense what hope the numbers will allow,

And what you get when you smear or overspend.

She will sit and stare at charts on CNN.

(But aren’t we redeemed by what they cannot show?

The struggle in each restless heart to know

The terms on which the nations fate depends.)

She will think how, at last, millions have spoken as one,

That freedom requires an open mind and hand,

And the strength to be forgiven and understand,

And that tomorrow morning it has all just begun.

JIM LEHRER: J.D. McClatchy teaches at Yale. His sixth collection of poems, titled “Mercury Dressing,” will be published in February.