Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Kathleen O’Toole: First Street Shiva for RBG

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

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

One comment on “Kathleen O’Toole: First Street Shiva for RBG

  1. Barbara Huntington
    March 8, 2021

    Beautiful. Her death brought many poems to me, too. Thank you for this one so well put.

    Liked by 1 person

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