September 21, 2012

Hidden DC

The other day I was talking to a blogger about The Blog as a hub or curatorial instinct: although there is a general focus on poetry, the only thing these posts all truly have in common is, well, me. It's the reason I don't accept guest posts. It's the justification for including some pretty random tangents, such as this one....

I am a DC girl, and in the last year or so I've realized I may be one forever. When I was a kid, I would come in to visit my dad's law offices that overlooked the C&O Canal in Georgetown, trying over and over to climb the unfinished brick walls. I rooted from the third deck as the Nats clinched a playoff spot last night; I take pride in our sushi chefs and beer selections; I watched the homecoming parade for Desert Storm veterans along Constitution Avenue, complete with yellow-ribbon fireworks;  I defend our slightly staid fashion sense; I remember when Art-O-Matic was in that very strange decrepit EPA building space; I once crashed a kite into the side of the Washington Monument. 

I am, in particular, very passionate about monuments and memorials (beyond flying kites into them). I probably get it from my dad; when not lawyer-ing he was Army-ing, and in fact he was one of those who broke ground at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. We still have the shovel. When my first conversation with the boyfriend made mention of the FDR Memorial--which he proceeded to have strong opinions about--I knew there was something there. I've written about the Jefferson Memorial for the Post Magazine. 

Oddly enough, the Lincoln Memorial is never one I've bonded with. Odd because it has an incredible role in our collective history; more than any other monument it doubles as a stage for the nation. But there is one aspect to it that fascinates me...

...the hidden face. 

It's a story I first heard from a college boyfriend; then I overheard a tour guide--someone definitely not employed by the National Park Service--saying it to a busload of Japanese tourists; then I was reminded of it when I stumbled across this website. The principle is that if you stand in the right place, looking at the profile of Lincoln's statue, you can see a second face sculpted into the curves of hair on the back of his head. See it?

Now, apparently theories about as to who the face belongs to. Did Daniel Chester French, the sculptor, create a self portrait?  That seems to me...kinda silly. A man who devotes his craft and his life to creating such legacies is probably not so petty & egotistical. Is it of Robert E. Lee? I doubt that version too, simply 1) French was a Yankee, and 2) because General Lee had a very distinguished visage that looks nothing like the one above:

I mean, seriously. The Father of the Confederacy had one hell of a beard; any artist worth his salt would have honored that. Even if it meant giving Lincoln a mullet. 

No, the theory I return to is the version I heard from a boyfriend I met through UVA's Jefferson Literary & Debating Society (which sponsored a stone in the Washington Monument, during its construction, that you can see marked with our name to this day) (yes I am a nerd). He said the face belonged to Ulysses S. Grant, famously temperamental and insecure soldier-cum-leader, who worried he would never be as revered as the martyr Abraham Lincoln. Grant directed French to work his profile into the statue so, by hook or by crook, he would always have his mark on the Mall. Check out the side by side (with Grant's profile flipped to emphasize the symmetry):

Awesome, right? Awesome. Of course, I am just perpetuating the myth; the bureaucracy that stands between conception and construction of a monument makes it highly unlikely that it was an act of intent rather than fate. 

But I like the myth. I love DC. And that's your random tangent for the day. 

September 13, 2012

On Wedding Poems

I am once again in a wedding party. But this time as a poet. Which means...(cue Jaws theme music)...I must either write or select a poem for the occasion. When my friend Dan Albergotti got married, he picked the perfect person for the job: his friend Natasha, a.k.a. Natasha Trethewey, a.k.a. the new Poet Laureate who is reading at the Library of Congress tonight. Smart man, that Dan. Sadly, my friend Dave has to settle for me. Dave is my oldest friend, in many ways my best friend, and I don't want to let him down. 

When he asked me the title for the program, I told him to call my presentation "Epithalamium." A bit of a cheat, because "Epithalamium" is a catch-all word from the Greek that describes the form of poems or songs that celebrate a marriage and, more specifically, is usually addressed to the  bride en route to her wedding chamber. (The same way "Aubade" describes a morning poem that records the parting of lovers.) In other words, whatever poem I read is an epithalamium. In other words: TBD. I don't want to retreat to the classic Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning. My role here is to be a lighter, contemporary voice amidst the solemnity of vows. But I can't be too edgy--it's a poem for a church, meant to honor, not a toast with a glass of whiskey in hand meant to entertain. Can you tell I am overworrying? Did I mention he is my oldest, bestest friend?

There are a few favorites out there I could turn to, and I share them here for anyone who stumbles to this page looking for a wedding poem. One is Jeffrey McDaniel's "The Archipelago of Kisses," which the epigraph dedicates "for Sarah Koskoff and Todd Louiso." It appears in his great third collection, The Splinter Factory~


We live in a modern society. Husbands and wives don't grow
        on trees, like in the old days. So where
does one find love? When you're sixteen it's easy--like being
        unleashed with a credit card
in a department store of kisses. There's the first kiss.
        The sloppy kiss. The peck.
The sympathy kiss. The backseat smooch. The we shouldn't
        be doing this kiss. The but your lips
taste so good kiss. The bury me in an avalanche of tingles kiss.
        The I wish you'd quit smoking kiss.
The I accept your apology, but you make me really mad
        sometimes kiss. The I know
your tongue like the back of my hand kiss. As you get older,
        kisses become scarce. You'll be driving
home and see a damaged kiss on the side of the road, 
        with its purple thumb out. If you
were younger, you'd pull over, slide open the mouth's ruby door
        just to see how it fits. Oh where
does one find love? If you rub two glances together, you get
        a smile; rub two smiles, you get
a spark; rub two sparks together and you have a kiss. Now 
        what? Don't invite the kiss
to your house and answer the door in your underwear. It'll get
        suspicious and stare at your toes. 
Don't water the kiss with whiskey. It'll turn bright pink and explode 
        into a thousand luscious splinters, 
but in the morning it'll be ashamed and sneak out of your body
        without saying good-bye, 
and you'll remember that kiss forever by all the little cuts it left
        on the inside of your mouth. You must
nurture the kiss. Dim the lights, notice how it illuminates
        the room. Clutch it to your chest,
wonder if the sand inside every hourglass comes from a special
        beach. Place it on the tongue's pillow, 
then look up the first recorded French kiss in history: beneath
        a Babylonian olive tree in 1300 B.C.
But one kiss levitates above all the others. The intersection
        of function and desire. The I do kiss.
The I'll love you through a brick wall kiss. Even when
        I'm dead, I'll swim through the earth, 
like a mermaid of the soil, just to be next to your bones. 

~Jeffrey McDaniel

***Note that I hand-checked the above against the book; I've seen some other versions around the internet that get line breaks and even whole phrases wrong, argh. 

There is also this fun(ny) one from Taylor Mali, "How Falling in Love is like Owning a Dog," for couples with a clearly equal & happy power relationship. 


First of all, it’s a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you’re walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain’t no one going to mess with you.
Because crooks and muggers think love is unpredictable.
Who knows what love could do in its own defense?

On cold winter nights, love is warm.
It lies between you and lives and breathes
and makes funny noises.
Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.
It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.

Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.

Is love good all the time? No! No!
Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.

Love makes messes.
Love leaves you little surprises here and there.
Love needs lots of cleaning up after.
Somethimes you just want to get love fixed.
Sometimes you want to roll up a piece of newspaper
and swat love on the nose,
not so much to cause pain,
just to let love know Don’t you ever do that again!

Sometimes love just wants to go out for a nice long walk.
Because love loves exercise. It will run you around the block
and leave you panting, breathless. Pull you in different directions
at once, or wind itself around and around you
until you’re all wound up and you cannot move.

But love makes you meet people wherever you go.
People who have nothing in common but love
stop and talk to each other on the street.

Throw things away and love will bring them back,
again, and again, and again.
But most of all, love needs love, lots of it.
And in return, love loves you and never stops.

~Taylor Mali

You can watch him deliver it here...

I wrote my first epithalamium a few years back: you can find "On the Occasion of Your Wedding" up on the Cerise Press website, but I'll share the text here too:


People will tell you it is natural
to pair off. People say this despite

the Pope, in his backseat built for one.
People say this despite the cuttlefish,

with three hearts of his own and no room
for more. People say this despite

the majestic imbalance of bee hives;
despite the komodo dragon,

fertilizing each egg herself. People
are bluffing. There is nothing natural

about your pan caked in his grease,
or the way you tuck used Kleenex

in the crevice of his recliner. No one
ever lovingly stitched His or Hers

on a clog of drain hair. In the natural
world we each have our own cave,

a nice cave, tin cans strung between us,
a lake big enough for fishing, swimming,

the radial distance of being perfect and

perfectly alone. But here’s to saying
Screw it and I do. They make duct tape

for situations like this. They make
peanut butter. They make knowing

when to sing along to music you do
not like. They make knowing when to

leave the room. They make tiny,
superstrong magnets that will pin you

to a refrigerator door just long enough
for a kiss. I wish you all of these things,

these things you will need — and earlier,
as I tied the immaculate bow on what

I gave you instead, I thought You fools.
You lucky, lucky fools.

~Sandra Beasley

I'd like to think it's right for a wedding, but it's not right for this wedding. So I draft and fuss, fuss and draft. And I try to remember: the important thing is that two people I adore, the right people for each other, are joining hands and hearts before the eyes of God, family, and friends. I'm just a juggler people pass by on their way to the big tent. 

"Brueghel Wedding," a line drawing by Gary Peterson