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Jan 20
Lawrence Hall

                               For the 20th of January
                                      1961 and 2021

                 The deed of gift was many deeds of war

                                         -Robert Frost

Miz Hawkins brought a television to school
So we could watch the inauguration
Of a president “born in this century”
But he seemed really old to us anyway

God looked like President Eisenhower
And God was surely a Methodist
President Kennedy was a Cath’lic
(In their basements they hid shortwaves and guns)

Shortwaves tuned to the Vatican and that ol’ Pope
So could a Cath’lic be a good American?
But the nation was young, and so were we
And America was God’s best creation

And because America was the Leader of the World
And we had whipped the Nazis and the **** [sic]
All by ourselves, and invented the Bomb
We were the blessing of democracy over all

Robert Frost spoke grand words in the January frost
I was hoping for his “Stopping by Woods”
Because I had memorized that in school
But he gave us something else, “The Gift Outright”

And then with frosted breath the President
Asked us what we could do for our country
Our country later asked us about Viet-Nam
But for now Miz Hawkins shushed all us deeds of gift

The nation was young that day, and so were we –

And everything seems so much older now
Our long ago optimism a deed of gift
To angry old men whose voices rattle

Rattle from behind armored glass and barbed wire
Barbed wire left over from DaNang and Saigon
And a thousand abandoned desert posts
Each a gift outright to Ozymandias

Who late bestrode the littered Capitol steps
His wrinkled lips loud-yelping in command
Over our increasingly antique land
“Made it, Ma! Top of the World!”

The happy crowds of ’61 are sand
There are no crowds in ’21, only silence
Behind ranks of soldiers (properly vetted)
Standing in empty streets, waiting for a Traveller


Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright”
Shelley, “Ozymandias”
Warner Brothers, White Heat (film), 1949
A poem is itself.
Written by
Lawrence Hall
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