Inspired by last week’s Presidential Inauguration, Paul Marion shares this poem from his book, Union River: Poems and Sketches (2017), available at www.loompress.com
CHECKING THE PROPERTY
by Paul Marion
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 her 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 off 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 own story,
One in which protestors 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.