Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Poem for Tuesday and National Aquarium

For the Union Dead
By Robert Lowell


"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the bless├Ęd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

--------

We spent most of Memorial Day in Baltimore at the National Aquarium, where a baby dolphin was recently born -- we were hoping to get to see it but apparently the dolphin viewing tickets were snapped up early (they aren't doing a dolphin show while the mother and baby are bonding). It was nearly 100 degrees, and both the air conditioned aquarium and Baltimore itself were very crowded -- the latter because the University of Maryland was playing the University of Virginia in the NCAA lacrosse championship at the Ravens' stadium, which is very exciting for the region considering that Virginia was ranked 7th, Maryland wasn't ranked at all, yet they knocked out Duke, Denver, Syracuse, et al. Sadly, the Terps did not win, but it's nice they made the final practically as the home team.

















As for the aquarium, we took Adam's friend whose house he slept over the night before, and we saw lots of fish and lizards and snakes and sharks and frogs and puffins and parrots and turtles...the mammals (sloth, tamarins, flying foxes) were all hiding, but we got to see divers both in the central salt water tank and feeding fish in the circular coral reef tank, and the various birds in the Australia and South American rainforest exhibits were quite active. We spent the evening watching The Book of Eli, which I liked better than I was expecting; it's extremely violent and the acting is a lot more subtle than the screenplay's choices, but I did enjoy the performances and as dystopias go it had some original details.

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