By Elizabeth Alexander
(At the same time, American paintings wherein
the biodynamic landscape explodes in flames,
ice, violent sunshine that seems to burn the canvas,
apocalyptic nature that roils and terrifies.
The Beautiful: small scale, gentle luminosity.
Sublime: territorial, vast, craggy, un-
domesticated, borderless, immense, unknown,
awful, monumental, transcendent, transcending.
Go West and West young man, to blinding snowstorms. Leave
shark-infested waters, shipwrecks without slaves.
Miraculous black holes of color large enough
to blot out the sun, obliterate the unending moans,
to exalt, to take the place of lamentation.)
Elizabeth Alexander will become just the fourth poet to recite a poem at a president’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20 at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. She was born in Harlem, raised in Washington, D.C. and attended Yale University, where she teaches African American Studies. She is the author of four books of poetry, including her most recent, “American Sublime,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.