For the Computer Graphics Design course "GRDS-90: Illustration with the Macintosh" at Foothill College (Winter 1993), the instructor Kent Manske told the students to generate a 8.5" x 11" color graphic illustration on the Macintosh interpreting Maya Angelou's poem— "On the Pulse of Morning" read at the Inauguration of Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States on January 20, 1993.

    I was struck by the opening lines of Angelou's poem "A Rock, A River, A Tree" which echoed back to Dante's Purgatorio XXII.137 ("bright running water fell from the high rock and spread itself upon the leaves above. When the two poets had approached the tree, a voice emerged from within the leaves and cried out: "This food shall be denied you.") and T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday ("The place of solitude where three dreams cross / Between blue rocks / But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away / Let the other yew be shaken and reply. / Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden... / Teach us to sit still / Even among these rocks, / Our peace in His will / And even among these rocks / Sister, mother / and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea, / Suffer me not to be separated / And let my cry come unto Thee.") I researched the symbolism of rock, river, and tree to ground myself in the ancient Biblical and philosophical traditions of these images.

    My free association clustering exercises came up with Plymouth Rock to Moonlanding (rock of our founding fathers), the Pilgrim's Mayflower ship to Apollo's spaceship journey (river of American history), the Tree of Life rooted in this nation of immigrants coming here for a fresh breath of freedom. Despite the tone of pessimism and despair in the early section of Angelou's poem, I found her latter part upbeat and uplifting, especially her repeated refrain: "Lift up your faces... Lift up your eyes... Lift up your hearts... Look up and out upon me, the Rock, the River, the Tree, your country... Here on the pulse of this new day... look up and out and into your sister's eyes, into your brother's face, your country and say simply very simply with hope Good morning."

    Using a Microtek ScanMaker 600ZS, I scanned colored images from a book of U. S. postage stamps that would best represent time capsules flowing down the River of American history. I selected people from nationalities and cultures Maya Angelou had cited in her poem as fruits on my Tree of Life to bless the future of America. I've identified the stamps with people and events which were used in creating this graphic illustration of Angelou's On the Pulse of Morning. The Rock, River, and Tree were drawn in color with Adobe Illustrator 3.2 and imported into Quark XPress 3.1, where the 16 portraits and 11 events of American history were placed.

    After completing this project, I had a dream that the people on my American Tree of Life were talking to each other. Upon waking, I tried to reconstruct their conversations but without much success. I spent a week pouring through their writings— quotes from their poems, journals, addresses, and letters. I'm including these jottings in "Inspiring words from voices on the Tree of Life" from which I've composed "The Talking Tree". Unlike poems which usually begin on an empty page, this 40-line poem was chiselled down and sculpted from two full pages of words from 17 other writers. I'm thankful to Kent Manske for giving this exciting graphic design project to the class and his helpful artistic critiques, to Maya Angelou's poem On the Pulse of Morning which inspired my graphic imagery, and to all the heroes on my American Tree of Life whose visionary words shaped my poem.

                                                                                      Peter Y. Chou
                                                                                      Palo Alto