Cannot Live Without You
for Joe Biden’s inauguration, January 20, 2021
by Leonore Hildebrandt
Dear Country, today is good––
a bright and breezy morning that awakens every cell of your body.
The birds and trees and meadows and clouds balance with the earth’s movement.
The people who have taken you for granted pause for a moment
and regard you. As always, you are generous, welcoming them back.
My dear country, today you celebrate.
The past has left you wounded.
You have come face to face with your fragility––
the house of democracy broken into and vandalized,
servants of the constitution brazen, betraying the people.
You have come through the tumult in the streets,
the howling of sirens, hate-words, confederate flags.
You have been cloistered, lonely, and sick.
You mourn the losses.
And so today your vision of greatness returns to its roots––humility––
you note that you are one of many who are gathered at the table.
While you have not achieved all you set out to do,
you had the audacity to dream of equality and justice.
You are built on the wish for “a more perfect Union.”
My dear Country, you are beautiful––resilient.
Already the hills swept by last year’s fires are greening.
As public spaces reopen, the life of communities will rebound.
We will send our children to school, mingle in the city’s streets,
gather at potlucks, coffee shops, and corner stores.
We will kiss our grandkids, offer a hand, a heart,
the compassionate touch we’ve been craving.
We will agree on what the numbers tell us.
Dear Country, I cannot live without you.
In fact, I need you more.
And I no longer feel helpless when I reach out to you.
As we look at one another with fresh eyes, may I be honest?
I’m still disappointed that you would allow a man into the White House
who cares about himself above all.
I’m still tense when I think of the gamers and breakers of things,
their threats both open-carry and concealed.
But I long for you to heal, dear Country.
You deserve applause, street-dancers, a rainbow, a bouquet of roses!
You deserve decency and know-how.
Today I see the linking of arms––
an elastic chain to guard the transfer of power.
I see you waving to your global neighbors, rejoining their efforts
to keep the earth livable, to stand up to demagogues.
Because the eagle which you so proudly display in your emblems
cannot live by itself. It needs mountains and valleys
and plains where other creatures, too, may thrive.
It needs a spring, a weeping cloud, a stream.
It needs a tree to rest on, the air to soar into.
Today you recall the story of the thirteen Colonies
that formed a new single nation. They adopted a motto
written on the scroll clenched in the eagle's beak:
E pluribus unum––out of many, one.
It was the Roman scholar Cicero who said it first––
the webs of family, friendship, and community
give rise to society and the state.
"When each person loves the other as much as himself,
it makes one out of many.” Dear Country,
you have restored the missing pronouns––herself, themselves––
you know that one is made of many, and one is among many,
and one depends on many.
Ancient Rome believed in natural signs as clues
when planning for the country’s future.
An augur observed the behavior of birds
to see whether the gods favored a proposed action.
So I try it myself, watch the eagle’s comeback
in the wind-swept woods by the bay.
I watch the piñon jays––noisy flocks of dry shrub-lands.
They are pecking at cones, gathering,
cashing seeds that will sprout and grow.
Birds––during migration, a shimmering river of wings
flows through the darkness of night.
The Roman augurs must have learned much
about the ambitions of small bodies.
Today’s celebration is as momentous as a migration.
Dear Country, you may be tired, and yet your workers keep showing up.
Your mothers are struggling harder than ever for the common good.
Your doctors and nurses and caretakers keep mustering strength.
The helpers at food pantries, the activists for a living earth,
the protesters for Black Lives all offer visions of kinship.
Taught by history, your people are dogged in their hope,
for this has not been the last pandemic,
the last struggle for racial equality,
the last attempt by partisans to lead you astray.
But today you are breathing the sweet air.
Inauguration––a rite of passage,
a tribute to the bond between you, my dear Country,
and the people gathered here and elsewhere under the arc of sky.
Today, when we listen to the birds, we say, “How brave they are.”
E pluribus unum––out of many, one.
Our sustenance, our learning––out of many.
Each seed a confluence of many.
* * * * *
"I Cannot Live Without You" was first published in Poets Reading the News.
Leonore Hildebrandt is the author of the poetry collections Where You Happen
The Work at Hand, and The Next Unknown. Her poems and translations have appeared
in the Cimarron Review, Denver Quarterly, Harpur Palate, Poetry Daily, Rhino, and the
Sugar House Review, among other journals. She was nominated several times for a
Pushcart Prize. A native of Germany, Leonore lives “off the grid” in Harrington, Maine,
and spends the winter in Silver City, New Mexico.