Not today, though,
in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
not today he isn’t.
The entrance to the room
is barricaded with plywood permitting
only a partial glimpse
of the General: upstanding, unfazed
by the turbulent ice floes,
unwavering gaze fixed on, well,
plywood. The impeccable turnout,
in democratically dun-coloured mantle
(lined with scarlet),
thrown in dramatic folds
over shoulders bearing the weight
of a nascent nation –
all for nothing today. He shall not
reach the far shore, shall not
trounce the Hessian mercenaries;
and this great nation shall never,
now, be birthed – and not
just this room, no, the entire museum,
Fifth Avenue, all of Manhattan
for the duration; New York roped off,
the Empire State Building un-built,
stone by stone, steel girders
dismantled, the Brooklyn Bridge
melted down and Brooklyn cut loose
to drift out to sea.
By and by the prairie schooners
will return from the West (California
now only a word
whispered in feverish dreams
and no more), and from a non-place
not called Washington,
in a porticoed, pillared white house
that never was, a last tweet proclaims
the fading usurper’s futile fury –
then silence. Peace.
Sofia, age 23, from Siberia:
processed in Ellis Island, 1921;
destination Gackle, North Dakota.
You have to wonder.
Gackle, North Dakota:
founded in 1904;
located at 46°37′38″N, 99°8′36″W:
not even the middle of nowhere.
Population (1920): 424.
Population (1950): 606.
Population (2016): 291:
not exactly Boomtown ND.
Things to do in Gackle ND:
ˮGackle is home
to the Gackle Public Libraryˮ –
that is about the extent of it.
They must be doing
an awful lot of reading
up there in Gackle, ND.
And you have to wonder:
Did she find her home there?
Was it worth the loss of loved ones,
the heartbreak of exile, the long journey
all the way from Siberia – to Gackle, ND.
You will never be standing
on that impossibly thin line
four hundred metres
above the ground
between the two towers –
oh but you will:
all of us will, or were,
or are (even now),
only we did not realise then,
or have forgotten,
or choose to close our eyes
to the immensity of the drop.
(On 8/7/1974, Philippe Petit walked the tightrope betweeen the twin towers of the World Trade Center.)
The Old Testament beard blows
in the gale of a mighty shout;
the hair on his head raised
by the sheer force of fury; eyes
rolling under the promontory
of a frowning brow; brawny arms
outstretched in righteousness
burst the confines of the canvas –
This John Brown is anything but
a-mouldering in the grave.
This giant is girded with pistol
and sword; this prophet’s rage
raises tornados; this patriarch
dwarfs all who come near –
the settler unaware of the storm
bearing down on his wagon;
the cowering negro looking up
to the saviour that towers above him.
This John Brown is a soldier
in the Army of the Lord indeed,
and that his soul goes marching on,
of this the artist allows no doubt.
But that is not the question.
The question is whether
the voice of the black man
for whom this storm was raised
can be heard over the giant’s shouting –
if he can ever make himself understood
over the endless deafening chorus of
Glory, glory, hallelujah, Glory, glory hallelujah …
in a hurry
as you can see:
straining forward –
but the entrance
on the opposite side.