‘…On this electric stretch of public land…’

Web photo courtesy of ABC News

Over the weekend, we saw two competing visions of America in the form of citizens standing (and marching) for what they believe is best for the country, all of it in public view on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I wrote this poem after a visit with my family in summer of 2004.—PM



Checking the Property


My nine-year-old son says, “I’m going to read the ‘Gettysburg Address.’”

What’s the Lincoln shorthand? Freed the slaves; saved the union.

People crowd the marble steps at dusk. A sign asks for silence.

When he sees my wife lining up a shot, a guy in a straw cowboy hat

Offers to take a picture of my wife, our son, and me.

Climbing the stairs, I had caught sight of the figure behind columns,

And then lost him due to the steep ascent,

Only to come upon the sculpture again near the top,

Where visitors gaze at the huge seated president,

Whose massive square-toed boot juts out, looking as if it could kick

Jefferson Davis’ football the length of the Reflecting Pool

And onto the white spike of the Washington Monument,

At late day reflecting sun on its narrow western face,

A glow-stick numeral standing for the first president,

Who set the constitutional republic in motion,

The stone blocks a different shade on the top half,

Marking a stop in work and return, a monument telling its story,

One in which protesters rolled cut stones into the drink,

In a struggle for control of the civic project,

Foreshadowing later conflicts and comings together

On this electric stretch of public land without timber or copper,

A wide open space in which to make a verb of America—

To recall and exuberate and to do democratic research-and-development

In a red clay-lined lab, crowded with evidence of an ongoing experiment,

And bearing key formulas and equations inscribed in stone.


Paul Marion (c) 2017