Monuments

By Myra Sklarew b. 1934 Myra Sklarew
           Today the moon sees fit to come between a parched earth
    and sun, hurrying the premature darkness. A rooster in the yard
            cuts off its crowing, fooled into momentary sleep.
               And soon the Perseid showers, broken bits
         of the ancient universe, will pass through the skin of our
            atmosphere. Time and space are alive over our city.
 
       Final eclipse of the sun, last of this millennium, our city’s
        brightness broken off. We have known other dark hours:
            Here, coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig
        of lilac—Lincoln’s death, winding procession toward sleep.
          We have known slave coffles and holding pens in yards
       not half a mile from our Capitol, wooden palings sunk in earth
 
       to guarantee none would escape. In this freest city. Oh if earth
              could talk. Earth does talk in the neatly framed yards
                where death thinks to lay us down to rest. Asleep,
                the marker stones. But not the voices, jagged bits
                of memory, shards of poems. Sterling Brown. Our
           human possessions and all they've left us. This whole city
 
                  sings their songs. Say their names. In this city
               they are our monuments: Frederick Douglass, our
             Rayford Logan, Alain Locke, Franklin Frazier, Georgia
       Douglas Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, May Miller: Not sleep
        but garlands left to us. Montague Cobb, William Hastie. Yards
                 of names. And here, the place where we unearth
 
             an immigrant father of seven. He leans down—no earthly
           reason for his choice—to pick up his nearest child. A yard-long
             rack of brooms behind him, a bin of apples. Not the sleep
                   of cold, but autumn in Washington. 1913 or a bit
               later. He stands awkwardly on 4 1/2 Street, S. W. Our
                street photographer, who’s just come by with his city
 
              chatter, ducks beneath a dark cloth. Monuments of the city
         behind him, he leans over his black box camera in time to capture
                       that moment when the child will play her bit
      part, pushing away from her father like a boat from shore. In the sleep
         of winter, years later, she will become my mother. What yardstick
                 by which to measure importance? To measure earthly
 
     agency? Each of us has monuments in the bone case of memory. Earth-    
 bound, I take my sac of marble and carry it down lonely city streets where our
generals on horseback and a tall bearded man keep watch over all their citizens.
 

Myra  Sklarew, “Monuments” from Beltway magazine. Copyright © 2004 by Myra  Sklarew. Reprinted by permission of Beltway magazine. Part of a celebration of Washington, D.C. and the millennium with “Citypiece: D.C. Monuments,” a commissioned work by composer Robert Kapilow, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, June 28, 2000.

 Myra  Sklarew

Biography

Born in Baltimore, biologist, poet, and writer Myra Sklarew was educated at Tufts University, where she earned a BS in biology, and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where she earned an MA. She began her career in the sciences, studying at the Cold Spring Harbor Biological Laboratory with Salvador Luria and Max Delbruck, and conducting research on frontal lobe function and delayed response memory in rhesus . . .

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Poems by Myra Sklarew

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