Last Friday, The Statehouse Report’s Andy Brack broke the news that Nikki Haley had nixed plans to allow S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth to read her latest Inauguration Day poem at tomorrow’s ceremony. While Haley and company claim that there simply wasn’t enough time for Wentworth to read her poem, nobody’s buying that. 

The truth is, Wentworth’s latest, “One River, One Boat,” is rather different from her previous inauguration poems. Whereas the previous poems — including one read for Haley’s 2009 swearing in and two for Gov. Mark Sanford — were largely pastoral in nature, Wentworth’s “One River, One Boat” has the gumption to bring up South Carolina’s shameful past and shameful present. In the former case, the poet includes passages referencing slavery and, in the latter, a line bemoaning the Confederate flag’s presence on Statehouse grounds. In the poem, Wentworth even has the gall to recognize “migrant farm workers” (read: illegal immigrants) as human beings. Gasp.

Make no mistake, “One River, One Boat” is a truly moving poem, one that says quite a bit about who we are as South Carolinians today and the sins for which we still have yet to fully atone for, but anyone with a lick of political common sense surely understands that Haley would have never approved this poem under any circumstances, manufactured time constraints or not. For starters, it doesn’t fit with Haley’s Pollyanna-esque “It’s a great day in South Carolina” self-help mantra, and, two, the sentiments in the poem are a direct challenge to the S.C. Republican Party’s platform of not-so-soft peddled racial discrimination and xenophobia. 

I applaud Wentworth for daring to submit the poem — it’s clearly the most important poem anyone has written about South Carolina in a long time, if not forever — but clearly, no one can be shocked that it was rejected.

You can read “One River, One Boat” at Statehouse Report.

The previous poems are posted below.

“The Weight It Takes”

For Nikki Randhawa Haley, on the occasion of her inauguration
as governor of South Carolina

In the white silence that is winter
return to the river, if only
for solitude. Begin at the roots.
Touch the pulse that keeps
flowing on its own. Sometimes
you will need only this.

For rivers are just a way for us
to find one another. Each rock,
the weight it takes to keep us
here; the fish, just fleeting
friendships, that will disappear
and reappear when we least expect it.

Beneath a tangle of trees,
the riverbank is an altar
holding water; the single vessel
taking in miles of spinning leaves,
lost feathers, and the dreams
of all who come here.

Now your life belongs to the world.
Hold fast to everything
beating with sunlight.
Pull us together, like water.
Be the weight that grounds us
through swirling hours of each day.
When voices shout without ceasing,
be the stillness we hear ringing in our hearts.

“Rivers of Wind”

For Mark Sanford on the occasion of his inauguration as
governor of South Carolina

Today the angels are tumbling
down through heaven’s door.
All along the Coosaw
they hover in a misting halo,
until the black river
shreds into the sea. Today,
as the old oak leaves spin
into bright bunches of confetti,
oysters split open their shells
and sing. At the water’s edge
lilies and tickseed bloom
white and yellow candles
for the dead. All along the Coosaw
the breaths of angels
compose the air, moving in rivers
of wind across this land.

The rivers are omnipotent.
They weave through the earth
like veins, moving for thousands
of miles. There is no beginning.
There is no end, like the moss
and trillium flowing across the forest floor,
or the ravens gathered
above the sharp edges
of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.
In the gray granite cliffs,
where they build
their winter nests of twigs and fine hair
the birds caw and chortle.
Their rumble is the sound
of a wild, free place.
From these mountain tops,
it seems you can see forever –
From the sandhills to the swampland.
From the Piedmont
to the Peedee. In all directions
today, the ever-changing colors
are splashing through the sky –

because in every heart
there is a God of hope, hiding
like a tight frightened seed,
that waits for the first smudge
of sunlight to spread
across the horizon, and later
in the purpled evening, rain.

Seeds of hope are waiting
in the sacred soil beneath our feet
and in the light and in the shadows,
spinning below the hemlocks.
Hope waits in the endless
waterfalls tumbling toward earth,
transforming into rivers
that pull us through embattled centuries.
Hope waits for the waters
to still and the currents
to empty themselves of the blood
that came before.

Hope waits for a day like today.

Hope waits for this man,
who reaches across
our divided lives.

Be still.
Be silent.

There is so much light
filling the sky here.
So much conviction
in the wind now.
Watch the seeds of hope
as they scatter far,
far across this land.

“The World Is Green Again” *

Low limbs of the live oak twist
like overlapping black rivers
across the sky. It is easy
to feel lost in the maze
of their convoluted journey,

but there are small birds
we cannot see, singing
in the silvery sun –
nests balanced on the tips
of branches like bowls of light.

An osprey looks down from a nest
of twigs and Spanish Moss.
The broad crown of the oak
is thick with green leaves rippling
in waves. Sometimes, hovering

over water, searching the surface
for fish, he remembers this tree –
the absolute permanence,
considers its great weight
and all the lives intertwining.

He exists as a mass of feathers,
talons, and bone – a dark winged
fishhawk weaving a life from air.
Loyal to this land and patient,
he trusts the hours that pass

through wind and cold bursts of rain.
Like the live oak, like this place
he inhabits with his whole heart,
he waits until the days lengthen,
and the world is green again.

* This one was also written for Sanford.

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