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(Editor's Note: To see the author read/perform this poem/article, scroll down to the end of this article, just after the Author bio.)
First, the souvenirs: Copper Lady, Plastic Lady, Lady in the Snowball, coinbanks, cedarboxes, thick and tasseled pencils, placemats postcards mirrors spoons cups metal paper rubber bear her blue image. Also fries dogs shakes.
Buy our Admit Ones from the whitehaired grizzlejawed joe sparkling under his cap. A short wait, then board our red white and blue tidy ferry.
Stamping children, flappy flags, ziz of nylon jackets. Every size jeans, polyesters, gold bridges, camera necklaces, not just Americans, but Citizens of Everywhere.
Hair of every kind streaming over faces. Chiffon scarves fluttering, fluttering. The violins within my blood begin to rise.
Thickhand men derope our boat. The Hudson flushes under us. We’re off.
Grey and black and navy hugely tower. The pier disappears as we peer at the flannel and seersucker buildings compressing.
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Hoisted like masts in the brisk ferry air, we squint through sun-and-spray-tugged lashes. Teeth dried by windward smiles. Fluttery cheeks. Ferry bottom slaps on the river’s knee. Part of a sandwich flies by.
Old fort, gunhouse, then Ellis on the right. Pink brick sinks in my eyes. My stomach says in another life I knew that place, off the stink of the ship chilly chilly damp harsh pulled shoved cursed, named another name, I embraced my partly hideous destiny. Kindness was not yet popular.
Bright oblongs, slices of light, sun punctuates the water. City reduced to a pattern of blocks, gull-garlanded.
And there, as silver and as green as juneborn leaves, she twists.
There she grows now, so tall, the tallest woman you have ever seen.
Yes, you can even look under her armpit. What a great big holy face! The boat is tipping, cameras clicking.
The beacon herself welcomes us. Green goddess in the harbor, bearing light and knowledge. Her grotto is the open sky, the water is her shrine, appearing to the faithful with dignity divine. Grave and peaceful, calm and holy, she stands at the nation’s door.
The ferry slows, the ramp swings down. A hundred faces wonder shown: awe, delight, craning necks, clasping hands, chewing gum, lug the sliding baby, rumpled pamphlets, shrieks of laughter from the girls. Chiffon scarves fluttering, fluttering.
Rubber legs on terra firma. Up steps and steps and steps, wide grey group steps.
Lighted displays in the pedestal, sepia photographs—not now! not now! To the top to the top!
Black and many stairs, wrought iron. We are not in a building, but a woman. Race to the top to see whom she attracts.
Gigantic folds of gown softly corrugate the space. Look, there’s the book, that’s the torch! We are up so high my body is reverberating. My thighs retract my knees.
This single skinny black steel rail spiraling out the orangelit green is all that holds me from downward spiral. That, and absolute knowledge I will not fall. Death is offered us in many moments. We refuse it every time but once.
I do not even need the rail.
Lady Liberty, Lady Liberty, who’s inside your noble face? We whirl in your brain, Lady L. Here in her head, we are Liberty’s dream.
Gaze at the green horizon. See the hazy town. Glide with the garbage barges. Green grass patches all round.
Look past the reedy reaches of New Jersey, past silver green of Pennsylvania, to brown leather Ohio, shouldered Indiana, waving birch of Illinois, deep green corners of Wisconsin, to the blue and white of Minnesota, my home state, North Star State, crystal star state in my heart, my brow. Hi Mom.
Like a deck of cards, Iowa’s corn goes by, Nebraska’s grassy bluffs, sweet virile Colorado, patient glory of Grand Canyon and blur-rimmed Mojave. Neon jazz of Vegas and the fertile crop of Hollywood. Lady L., we know you from your miles of movies: cruise movies, crime movies, sailor movies, city movies, comical pastoral, historio-tragic. Here in your head, like favorite actors, boys dare each other with their elbows. Girls imagine swandives.
She changes the world in massiver ways than she knows: greeting, forgiving the restless arrivers: all those hearts crying for new starts. The journey is worth it, she says.
This Lady knows peace: Peace, she says, is activity with love.
Full of white blue pink cloud thought, descent is a twirl of honey onto bread.
Quieter voices and feet emerge through a fabric of stimuli: bleep of the giftshop register, sneaker squeaks, noisy boys: “If you dropped milk cartons off the top, they would crush your skull.” Girls squeal and shake the globes. Their elders flip brochures and pocket money.
Oh, those sepia photographs.
Rows of workers sweating over steaming vats of bluing starch soap. There in the red case, heavy black iron, heated by fire. Hiss on the wet shirt.
Much unchanged since sepia-time: dedication, patience, singlemindedness, the body’s praxis of routine, nights of reflection, exhaustion and fear —
Yet, stepping on the ferry with a wearied immigrant, we share a brimmingheart smile. Stepping on the ferry at the feet of Liberty, glowing in her halo, we remember we are free.
We jeans, we jackets, in the open air free and open to each other now. We are Liberty’s dream, and Liberty dreams the world.
The girls are flinging giggles overboard.
We are free, as the use of our eyes, free as the gulping air, free as the chiffon scarves fluttering, fluttering over the waves.
THE PLEDGE OF ATTENTION
I pledge attention
To the flow
Of the United States of Consciousness
And to the Reality from which it stems:
Of our Good
With liberty that just is for all.
©2020 by Irene O'Garden.
All Rights Reserved. Excerpted with permission..
Publisher: Mango Publishing Group, a divn. of Mango Media Inc..
Glad to Be Human: Adventures in Optimism
by Irene O’Garden
Celebrate life just because. In a world so often filled with distressing news and bewildering violence, being “human” often gets a bad rap. Rejoice in everyday reasons to smile, think positively, and enjoy the gift of life.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition.)
About the Author
Irene O’Garden has won―or been nominated for―prizes in nearly every writing category from stage to e-screen, hardcovers, children’s books, as well as literary magazines and anthologies. Her critically acclaimed play Women on Fire (Samuel French), starring Judith Ivey, played to sold-out houses at Off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre, and was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award. O’Garden’s new memoir, Risking the Rapids: How My Wilderness Adventure Healed My Childhood was published by Mango Press in January 2019.