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  • One River, One Boat

    by Representative James E. Clyburn

    Posted on 2015-01-14

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    CLYBURN. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend, Mr. Smith, for allowing me to share this time with him.

    Mr. Speaker, in keeping with the tradition of the First Amendment--a law deeply ingrained in the core of American values--I would like to put into the Congressional Record the poem ``One River, One Boat.'' This poem was written by South Carolina's poet laureate, Marjory Wentworth, in anticipation of reading it at today's gubernatorial inauguration. It illustrates the history of my home State and ponders a look at the path the State seems to be embarking upon going forward.

    Ms. Wentworth has recited a poem at the last three gubernatorial inaugurations, but she will not be reciting a poem at today's. She was told that her participation would make the program too lengthy.

    Now, Mr. Speaker, I have attended several inaugurations of South Carolina's Governors. Some were shorter than others. None were allotted a specific amount of time. South Carolinians are proud of their poet laureates, but all have not always agreed [[Page H398]] with the import of their writings. I believe it is wrong to not include this prolific, artistic expression in this year's ceremony.

    Recently, individuals across the globe are living in fear of censorship when free speech and expression should be a fundamental right. We have even seen cowardly individuals use their own beliefs to badger, batter, and even murder those whose views and expressions they have found discomforting.

    We have seen many instances of arbitrary actions against the powerless by the powerful when words and actions threaten their comfort levels. Such actions should not be.

    I applaud Ms. Wentworth for her touching words, and I am reading her poem today in hopes that the people of South Carolina, across the country, and peoples around the world are as touched by her words as I have been.

    One River, One Boat (By Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina) Because our history is a knot we try to unravel, while others try to tighten it, we tire easily and fray the cords that bind us.

    The cord is a slow moving river, spiraling across the land in a succession of S's, splintering near the sea.

    Picture us all, crowded onto a boat at the last bend in the river: watch children stepping off the school bus, parents late for work, grandparents fishing for favorite memories, teachers tapping their desks with red pens, firemen suiting up to save us, nurses making rounds, baristas grinding coffee beans, dockworkers unloading apartment size containers of computers and toys from factories across the sea.

    Every morning a different veteran stands at the base of the bridge holding a cardboard sign with misspelled words and an empty cup.

    In fields at daybreak, rows of migrant farm workers standing on ladders, break open iced peach blossoms; their breath rising and resting above the frozen fields like clouds.

    A jonboat drifts down the river.

    Inside, a small boy lies on his back; hand laced behind his head, he watches stars fade from the sky and dreams.

    Consider the prophet John, calling us from the edge of the wilderness to name the harm that has been done, to make it plain, and enter the river and rise.

    It is not about asking for forgiveness.

    It is not about bowing our heads in shame; because it all begins and ends here: while workers unearth trenches at Gadsden's Wharf, where 100,000 Africans were imprisoned within brick walls awaiting auction, death, or worse.

    Where the dead were thrown into the water, and the river clogged with corpses has kept centuries of silence.

    It is time to gather at the water's edge, and toss wreaths into this watery grave.

    And it is time to praise the judge who cleared George Stinney's name, seventy years after the fact, we honor him; we pray.

    Here, where the Confederate flag still flies beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past, conflicted about the future; at the heart of it, we are at war with ourselves huddled together on this boat handed down to us--stuck at the last bend of a wide river splintering near the sea.

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