American Revolutions

by Sarah Kennedy

1.  Monticello

Well, no one would mistake it for a farm
            house—Ash Lawn down the road or, God forbid,
                        an ordinary mansion.  And wonders
            abound from the antlers and bones to maps
and Old Masters.  Picture him on the floor

with a book, says the guide, papers paying
            court in their piles around him while his man
                        servant tries to straighten up.  Here he caged
            his mockingbirds, talking between themselves
while he rested from writing by working

“keys and locks and small chains, iron and brass.”
            The alcove bed divides the private rooms
                        from themselves, the polygraph always poised
            for his doubled words, revolving bookstand
always at attention, awash with light

from the mirrored walls.  Windows serve the cause
            from one side or the other all day; fields
                        fall away in every direction from
            this seat of “more freedom, more ease, and less
misery.”  Of course it is dark below,

a passage from the kitchen plowed beneath
            the heart of the famed circular floor plan
                        to a dumbwaiter that invisibly
            lifted wine to the dining room.  And look
at the clocks and weathervanes and the way

the roundabout roads and fences kept
            his time and his boundaries, his daily
                        cycle of work and respite unsullied
            by danger of chaos.  You wouldn’t make
the error of thinking it’s not unique,

not with the dome hovering above you,
            not with all of the novel ideas it
                        enthrones, but from a distance it’s only
            a big house, with tourists steered around and
around, going through those same old motions.  


2.  The House, the Church, the Mall

And what’s the word on Paul Revere these days?
Still in Charlestown watching for the light, still
ringing in the belltower of King’s Chapel.

He’s still lying, down in the Granary,
with Sam Adams, James Otis, John Hancock,
our many founding fathers all revered

under the cover of their stately stones.
In the portrait by John Copley, the Son
of Liberty sits as though he’s musing

on independence, patriotic chin
in portly hand: he’s the American
dream.  The historical home, with his spoons,

his Windsor chairs, the sad tale of his dead
wife, his live wife, his sixteen children, tells
the whole domestic story in four dark

rooms.  It’s a small house for the busy smith:
pounding and etching and polishing, now
engraving a scene on copper: redcoats

gunning down innocent, unarmed local
citizens!  The Freedom Trail’s crimson line
runs through the streets, the mall, toward the Old North

church, passing a make-shift memorial:
hundreds of blank dogtags dangling from walls
of strung wire.  But where is Paul Revere?  He

is above it all, grimacing earthward
from his pedestal, astride his bronze steed,
shouting at air—oh, his one-if-by-land,

two-if-by-sea, his British-are-coming,
who doesn’t want to believe it?  Look how
fabled he is, how lyric, hair whipping

back, horse beneath him always already
in flight, the one hand flung out as he calls
on all insurgents to wake up and fight.


3.  Mount Vernon

Begin again:  at the dining room door
and through into the dark: the plaster sheaves
and rakes decorating the walls, marble
fireplace, the river outside the essence

of freedom within limits.  And from here
the great general husbanded his fields
and his widow with her many slaves, her
daughters.  Hard to forget, since you must start

there, the servants’ quarters, though “larger than
many planters’ homes,” the maids, the butlers,
though the porch provides a bucolic view
from which the members of the Mount Vernon

Ladies Association might have sighed—
a slight descent in the various grounds,
the silky, winding river—and dreamed of
his clacking teeth (which were certainly not

made of wood), oh his many gentle ways.
And then there were, of course, the people he
liberated, but only in his will. 
Begin again:  the visitor center

models the home as a dignitaries’
hotel and notes that the plantation grew
from two to eight thousand acres under
our founding father’s governing hand.  How

he insisted on the good country life,
spreading the word of independence! And
here is the very bedroom where he died
of a throat infection, light and airy

and facing the water.  The refusal
to tell a lie comes back, where our reading
began: the Delaware.  His commanding
rejection of a crown, right at the start.

No wonder you go around it again:
you’ve been herded through.  The idea remains
though:  the house as a center, a notion
of order.  But out, beyond the fence, lie

how many unmarked graves—nobody knows.
And Martha mourned in a clean white room marked
out by her on the upper floor and died
under waving, patient fans.  She freed no

one, and the whole place then went to ruin,
opposing walls watching themselves fall.  So
begin again.  It’s a restoration.
It’s all laid out.  It’s almost perfected.