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Political Poet's Corner

On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial


Linda Pastan

We invent our gods

the way the Greeks did,

in our own image—but magnified.

Athena, the very mother of wisdom,

squabbled with Poseidon

like any human sibling

until their furious tempers

made the sea writhe.

Zeus wore a crown

of lightning bolts one minute,

a cloak of feathers the next,

as driven by earthly lust

he prepared to swoop

down on Leda.

Despite their power,

frailty ran through them

like the darker veins

in the marble of these temples

we call monuments.

Looking at Jefferson now,

I think of the language

he left for us to live by.

I think of the slave

in the kitchen downstairs.

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