In the moment

By Michelle Chen Jan 20, 2009

I’m just catching up to the inaugural festivities now after returning from a visit to Bedford Hills, a maximum-security prison in Westchester, NY. As I listened to the broadcast of the ceremony on the train back to the city, my radio died out just seconds before the oath was taken. In a moment of frustration and reflection, I jotted down some thoughts in my notebook. Not exactly poetic, but a product of that spontaneous mix of inspiration and melodrama that crops up under such circumstances. What were you doing at the moment Barack Obama became president?

Noon, January 20, 2009 On a train speeding from a state prison to 125th street, my pocket radio died the moment the President-elect stepped up to take his oath. I can only imagine the ritual of the swearing in as I hurtle home, denied by distance, sight and now sound. But just as well. The air resounds with the impossible to say and the understood—lost to history, exceeding the range of physical capture, scattered like warm ashes to cautious winds. Bound for a destination talking back from a distance. Legacies waving from a horizon familiar and strange. A journey we start in medias res, the odyssey handed down across generations through a chain of voices unbroken. Waves of symphony and counterpoint that flow through major and minor keys, the song that carries, even when I’m not there to catch it.