I’m still savoring the exhilaration and so I hope you don’t mind if I record it for my first post. I was in Williamsburg, at a friend’s apartment, and once NBC announced Ohio, all 12 of us began madly cheering. And then an hour in, it was over, they called it for Obama and we couldn’t believe it at first. It took a few seconds to dawn on us and we shot up, screamed, hugged, and a few of us weeped.

As we shouted, we heard distant cheering outside our window. We stared out the window at the apartment across from us and Brooklyners outside their fire escapes cheered Obama and we shouted back his name. All around the block, where there was a lit window, there were revelers who strained out the window and hollered out his name. I thought a mass celebration would be limited to cordoned off areas at Times Square. But no. New Yorkers streamed out into the sidewalks. We streamed out into the sidewalks. Cars and trucks blared their horns. A cop might have even sputtered his name into his bull horn. Spontaneous celebrations broke out at every block, every corner. A little farther upstate, where I teach, students erected a huge tent and threw themselves a bacchanalia, shouting USA, USA (and these are jaded, liberal arts students). One subway conductor shouted Obama over the PA and the subway riders went crazy. In Fort Greene, in my old neighborhood, there were pedestrians drumming and people shouted Oba-ma to the beat. Every bar was packed. In the East Village and Harlem, people climbed and danced on top of bus shelters and buses which were trying to inch their way through the elated throng. A cab driver from Yemen told me that it was the first time he voted. America is now transformed, he kept repeating.
A poem by Thomas Sayers Ellis:
The Obama Hour
Finally, one of us is properly
positioned to run. By “us” I mean Black,
by “positioned” I mean White
and by “run” I mean Race and its varied speeds of darkness,
the way “silver writes” faster than revolution
and the lit and darkening skin of the sky.
The triumphant exasperation, though, belongs
to the word “finally” with its slanted f
signifying relief, a “‘bout time” up from the reservoir
of coded sighs we make to mask time,
Colored People’s Time, our well-known resistance
to the Romanized face of the clock. To discuss running,
running the country, a black man running,
an African running America, you must discuss Race
including the difficult qualifying times
between the theft of our arrival and all hate crimes.
Race as gift, as campaign donation, and gifts matter.
It’s racist to erase Race (because “erase”
means Blackness, ethnic cleansing,
get rid of the Blacks); and worse to hack off history
or any limb at anytime, except for purposes
of assimilation and modern design.
In place of the usual halo of numbers, orange balls and spindles.
Lazy, often late for work, our walk a discourse,
shifting, like the unemployed shadow of a brother leaning on a corner.
But America prefers Religion to Race
and a clock has disciples, hours,
cuckoos and cock-a-doodle doos.
The people “go to sleep” and the people “wake up” to nature,
nations and denominations of,
not the bedside duet of alarm and digital glow.

Originally Published: November 6th, 2008

Cathy Park Hong is the author of Translating Mo'um, (Hanging Loose Press, 2002); Dance Dance Revolution (W.W. Norton, 2007), winner of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; and Engine Empire (W.W. Norton, 2012). She is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the NEA, and the New York Foundation for the...

  1. November 6, 2008
     Sean Singer

    Thanks for this poem, Thomas.
    "…the true subject of democracy is not simply material well-being but the extension of the democratic process in the direction of perfecting itself. And that the most obvious test and clue to that perfection is the inclusion – not assimilation – of the black man."
    -Ralph Ellison, “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks,” Time, April 6, 1970