Meditation at Decatur Square


In which I try to decipher
                          the story it tells,
this syntax of monuments
                          flanking the old courthouse:
                                       here, a rough outline
like the torso of a woman
                          great with child—
                                       a steatite boulder from which
                          the Indians girdled the core
                                                     to make of it a bowl,
                                       and left in the stone a wound; here,

the bronze figure of Thomas Jefferson,
                                       quill in hand, inscribing
                          a language of freedom,
                                                    a creation story—
                                       his hand poised at the word
                           happiness. There is not yet an ending,
                                       no period—the single mark,
intended or misprinted, that changes
                          the meaning of everything.

Here too, for the Confederacy,
                          an obelisk, oblivious
               in its name—a word
                          that also meant the symbol
to denote, in ancient manuscripts,
               the spurious, corrupt, or doubtful;
                                             at its base, forged
                          in concrete, a narrative
               of valor, virtue, states' rights. 

Here, it is only the history of a word,
               that points us toward
                          what's not there; all of it
palimpsest, each mute object 
               repeating a single refrain: 

               Remember this.

Natasha Trethewey, "Meditation at Decatur Square" from Monument: Poems New and Selected. Copyright © 2018 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
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