Holiday 2014 - THE POTOMAC

Constitution Square

   Llyn Clague



pecking, crumb–hunting, full of purpose,
blue–gray pigeons occupy the sidewalk.

a chocolate macchiato on a Saturday morning,
I sit in an outdoor café, people–watching —
a young girl in cut–offs with sweet, café–au–lait legs;
a heavy–set woman, pink shirt, purple skirt;
a 50-ish man, shirt agape, hairy belly —
as they saunter, quick–walk, amble, dawdle by.

Out of sight
behind hotels, offices, penthouses with a view,
bone white, high above the city,
the Acropolis gleams in my memory like a laser —
edifice of an elegance so sensual, so pure,
no photograph,
no paragraph,
not even verse,
can grasp its grace.

Paean to Athena,
hymn to triumph, to glory, to life itself,
its astonishingly astute engineering —
deceiving the eye, tilted pillars appearing straight —
creates an illusion of perfection
worthy of a goddess, ethereal, eternal,
and of man, corporeal, mortal,
yet capable of such a creation.


Yesterday our guide,
herself Greek, on the edge, day job at risk,
her black eyes sparking like flints, described —
in the bus winding through tight streets,
over lunch, leisurely, upscale,
on gravel beside the Parthenon —
laws, appearing straight, tilted toward cronies;
civic life, engineered into tax evasion and bribery;
self–reliance, rotted into selfishness:
a culture corrupt to its core.

On the ground
the people, these or thousands like them,
just last week, marching in a hymn of fury and fear,
stampeded this square.
If I had been one of them,
my wages slashed, or pension lost, or sacked — apparent promises broken —
I too would have chanted, hoisted loud banners, been tempted
to throw firebombs, smash windows, burn banks.

Eager for someone to blame.
Avid for someone to pay.


This morning,
sipping a machiatto in the birthplace of democracy —
illusion of fairness? vision of engineering? —
the Acropolis out of sight except in memory,
watching these people scatter the purposeful pigeons —
a young man in a black T-shirt, backpack, shaved head;
an older man, gray hair, limping, wiping his temple;
my young waitress, blond hair dyed orange —
I am hard put to believe that they,
their ancient ancestors,
or indeed we human beings,
could raise such a city on the hill.

But it is there.


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