The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Patricia Gray


Baby of my blood, you could
sleep on my pillow, your dark hair
and self not yet known, little being
from an in vitro tube, so eager to split
and form. Soon, your Asian eyes will find
my own, blue. Though a grandmother,
I've finally learned to mother. Only
roses for you. I will clip the thorns.

        --After reading Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

This morning, standing on the sweet spot near the Capitol, where tourists
like to stand, I watched workmen heft bollard posts into deep, cement pits.
On this same spot, you too may stand, deterred by the barriers today being placed.
I imagine you, visitor or friend, walking ahead of me in your future-clothes.
You will not know the Capitol we have known, nor the edifice
generations before us knew--when the grounds were open
and citizens drove up to the steps, or when, even earlier,
horses were tied to the wrought-iron hitching posts,
converted later to park benches.

Born in the heat of July, I learned to take first steps,
holding my parents'  hands on
Pennsylvania Avenue--
on the southeast side, far from the residence of power.
You may know me as the stranger in your family album,
the blurred figure passing through, as you snapped
Washington memory. Did you ask directions?
I gave them. If you requested it, I held your camera,
opening the quick lens to capture you with the dome
in the background, its Statue of Freedom on top–
the same statue that was removed to the parking lot
for cleaning--a Romanesque figure with a helmet,
and not the Native American we had supposed.

Just this morning, I heard, as you will hear, birdsong and twitter, 
the scattering feet of squirrels scampering aloft at your approach,
the caw-cry of crows in the distance. And today, you may learn
the old stories of neighborhoods in days when doors were left open,
cars unlocked, and about Capitol Hill, where on the hottest evenings,
children in nightgowns sometimes slept
under low branches on the soft, Capitol grass.

Recently, too, we could walk on the front porch
of the Capitol and look out over the Mall at the spokes
of L'Enfant's city streets leading away from its
centerpiece hub toward traffic circles uptown. Just
a decade ago, I went upstairs in the Capitol building
on the day of the Million Man March and looked out
over the Mall from a small window at the sea of faces
full of passion, brotherhood, and the deep urge to do good.

This morning, as usual, dawn runners hurried past, while 
others, dressed for work, spoke brightly into cell phones
to no one nearby. Thriving and busy, the city forms itself
around Jersey barriers, metal check-points, though, still,
over there, you may see the Potomac's mild ripples
where swimmers once splashed, or men fished, while others
hunted its banks. And just as the tidied-up Potomac
sends its eastward breeze toward the Hill, the neglected
Anacostia, will also be cleaned. Have you sculled
the Potomac, or paddle-boated the Tidal Basin?
Like you, I have stared at the cherry blossoms in April
sprouting from tree trunks as easily as from branches
and looked at the pink-tinged blossoms damp after showers,
glistening against rain-blackened bark.

Shushshsh, do I have your confidence? Come here.
There is still magic on this spot--and though the city
can be cutthroat in its clubs and drug dens
and neighborhoods overrun and pulled down--
on any street near the Capitol, when the honks
and shouts die down and Congressmen leave
for the weekend, you can hear the soft scuff
of your shoe soles on the sidewalk, and the city
becomes a simple hometown. Elders and youngsters
come home. A mother pauses to sit on a bench,
lift her blouse and nurse the new infant--its small hand,
only a tenth-size of yours, while indoors, grandmothers
pad in slippers to pick up their newspapers. By now,
a line has formed at the coffee shop, where a black father
continues to hold his own against the day-to-day forces
that, at times, would bring him down.

And, on any given weekend, while the media and cranes doze,
when you pass others on the cobblestone walk, look down
at the contours of tree roots buckling the brick path, and
remember the poet who tended wounded soldiers on the Mall.
Walk farther from the Hill, past the halfway house where
small miracles still occur each time a life that has died to the root
sprouts again, past lethal cravings. Then, you will know
that freedom can return. It is possible to step across rivers
of fear, and with feet wet and soiled, find the way, even as
we construct barriers that hide from us the knowledge
that once this city was open, and can be again.

© Copyright 2006-7 by Cook Communication