A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
What a distance we have traveled from the day Pres. Jefferson told his Secretary of State: “The appointment of women to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, July 1993 .
We’re not among the throngs of mourners snaking along East Capitol for a closer view, and to salute her flag-draped coffin. Here across the street we stand, women mostly, wearing black or other somber tones, some sporting thoughtful masks with slogans or embroidered collar designs, a few decked out ̶ notoriously, to salute her grit. No one speaks, yet our eyes ̶ visible above a shared horizon of masks ̶ signify…one language across the array of faces, many shedding tears. Think of all the prayers rising today with daughters and granddaughters held up to see her uplifted catafalque, its red, white and blue against the white marble ̶ operatic finale atop these stairs, former clerks standing to either side. Hardest for me to meet the gaze of young ones who seem to peer into our eyes for answers. We think we know what she would say: March on. Then Yvette, beside me, shakes her head, drops these words from beneath her mask like sharp pebbles hitting the ground: what is happening to this country? Our eyes meet. As momentary soul sisters, we stand silent for a stretch, then turn together to take in the messages and bouquets along the low wall and let them speak for us: thank you, Sempre Gracias. We’ve got this! A child’s drawing, a single rose, an apple. Wishing now I’d brought something: a votive candle, weeping fuchsia blossoms, a small token to register my own gratitude. Perhaps this hour of sitting in solidarity is what she’d want, reading to ourselves the letters engraved on the portico, half-masked from here by a maple: “Equal justice under the law.”
Kathleen O’Toole’s collections of poetry include This Far (Paraclete Poetry, 2019).
© Kathleen O’Toole, 2021