Michael Shindler is a research fellow at the Consumer Choice Center and a DC writer whose work has appeared in a number of publications, including the American Conservative, the American Spectator, Washington Examiner, and National Review Online. His villanelle, “Before Night Climbs,” appeared in The Poetic Hill in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelShindler.
Ode To The Potomac
The clamor of honking geese in the air
And the fitful flutter of a swan’s wing
Are like a wild and wandering fanfare
That heralds, as the sun heralds morning,
Your noble presence: waters flecked with foam
So full with strange life and lights that they
Must have surged up here through some secret vein
From the deep-seated home
Where in dark and holy remoteness lay
The waters that fed Eden’s lost terrain.
Close beside you, bewitched by you, I stroll
Following your waters’ mazy motion,
And each time I stop to rest by a shoal,
I see swimming and gliding, one by one,
Friendly bass and pike and hungry lamprey
And every now and then, bowfin and eels
Who below my reflection pass me by
Like proud dancers at play
And whose hurried and hectic movement reveals
Kinship with each other and passersby.
Here, throughout your ample domain where once
Savage swamplands abounded and there stood
Lush groves, which grew in primeval silence,
There now grows a great forest, not of wood,
But of brick and glass and cement and steel
Filled with folk from the whole nation occupied
With ensuring, day by day, the safety
Of our blessed commonweal
All united by a belief and pride
In the plain and great creed of Liberty.
It is a pure faith, yet it is wearying;
Too often, I find myself in the night
Visiting statues and venerating
With an unwritten and unspoken rite
All the Founders, scholars, and conquerors
Here enshrined in Olympian solemnity.
Now, as my faith again seems to grow frail,
I snub these stone altars
And seek your banks clothed in night’s majesty
Where these folk had also gone with faces pale.
Utterly and lovingly, I’m embraced
By fragrant honeysuckle as I pass
Through patches of bluebell by your hands placed
Gracefully about the broad cattail grass,
Which grows by sugar maples quavering
Mid familiar flowers made to beguile
And others that I can’t quite classify
But treat like folk passing
Whom I meet with a modest nod and smile,
But whose names will elude me ‘till I die.
And so my mind turns to all those unsung
Folk that fought and died by you in the rough
At the Siege of Harper’s Ferry, so young,
And at the awful Battle of Ball’s Bluff
And then at the Battle of Shepherdstown
And other instances known and forgotten
And how their blood is here mingled with yours.
Though they are not renown,
Their blood lives wherever your waters run;
A national vein pulses through your shores.
And as I stood, a lady in the moonlight
Wearing a feathered helmet rung with stars
And holding an old sword that seemed sheathed tight
And a shield painted with red and white bars
Walked past me through the starlit verdure.
And at last, when she arrived at your side,
She knelt and she prayed and then with cupped hands
Brought some of your water
To her lips and then, with an easy stride,
Departed to where the capitol stands.
And seeing that it was almost morning
I too began to depart when I heard
Ever so faintly the whole of the thing:
The water and the wind roving northward
And the muffled motions of the city
Choiring in an inhuman counterpoint
So indescribably strange-yet-welcome
And full of free glory
That as I strained to hear these songs conjoint
The sun arose and I was overcome.
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