American Colossus by Yvette Viets Flaten

licensed david evison

American Colossus
by Yvette Viets Flaten

Chiseled out of native rock,
I don’t expect this seated colossus
to spring to life before me.
Not in any mobile way. But it’s as if
the stone catches breath and his eyes
take light, and although I am among
a throng, I am not. Just he and I,
alone, it seems, the tramp of others
tramped across the echoing hall.

I feel I’ve met this man before, have seen
those hands at a feed store or farm supply.
At the farmers’ market, shucking corn,
or setting up a table with his prize honey.
He’ll give you a taste, from a plate, straight
from the comb, and shoo a wandering bee
aside, a gentle sweep.

I recognize the slope of his shoulders
against his seat, a man tired from his day
of work, but not cowed down. In need
of rest, but without defeat. I expect his
chair to rock.

His eyes shake me most. That level gaze.
The steady bead he draws upon my soul.
I hear his mute exhortation, to me, to sort out
what is right, and his incandescent charge
to walk down the steps, resolved.

PHOTO: The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC. Photo by David Evison, used by permission.

NOTE: The Lincoln Memorial honors the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Dedicated in May 1922, the neoclassical site is a major tourist attraction, and since the 1930s has been a symbolic center focused on race relations. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) served as president of the United States from 1861 to 1865. He led the nation through its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis in the American Civil War — and succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy. Lincoln is considered America’s greatest president.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In July 2016, my husband and I visited our son and daughter-in-law during the summer they lived in Washington, DC. From their small apartment in Georgetown, Dan and I would ride the Circulator on a daily adventure to discover something of our nation’s capital. Of all the monuments we toured, the Lincoln Memorial impressed me deeply. It was neither as remote as the Washington obelisk, nor as meditative as the Jefferson Memorial. It was vibrantly alive with humanity. And this photo captures it exactly. The memory of the humanness of that monument and the humanity of Lincoln himself was overwhelming and sparked my work.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yvette Viets Flaten was born in Denver, Colorado, and grew up in an Air Force family, living in Nevada, North Dakota, and Washington State, as well as France, England, and Spain. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish (1974) and a Master of Arts in History (1982) from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She writes both fiction and poetry. Her award-winning poetry (Muse Prize, Jade Ring, Triad) has appeared widely in numerous journals, including the Wisconsin Academy Review, Rag Mag, Midwest Review, Free Verse, Red Cedar Review, and Barstow and Grand. In May 2020, she was interviewed by Garrison Keillor as part of his Pandemic Poetry Contest. Yvette’s poem, “Riding It Out,” was one of 10 winners. Find her interview with Garrison Keillor here.

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