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Sunday, August 18, 2013


by Wendy Vardaman

 for the Solidarity Sing Along & Overpass Light Brigade, Living Art Since 2011 & the Raging Grannies, est. 2003

Liberty’s decked
in a dozen shades of green, wears a laurel-leafed
red cap,
shelters a ballot box in her lap,
inside it a white ball—that means yes.
Old as Moses, Legislation has
a notebook, a pen, could be a writer. Or just a forgetful old man.
Justice, maybe Liberty’s mom,
holds a pan in each palm. And Governance?
He’s up to something. Has his eye on Liberty’s
egg-like vote. He’s Roman.
Carries the Emperor’s wand
in one hand and a sword in the other. Flashes his shining, glass-light teeth
like he means it. The red breastplate means he hangs with Mars, even if he hides the helmet

under his seat. The four
sit larger than life, myth-like, on benches flat to the wall, don’t register
the noon-hour sing-along, from their Olympus high. One hundred, more or less, 
not an organization, but a collection
of citizens, some regulars, some once-in-a-whiles, some one
timers, gather to gather citations beneath Resources of Wisconsin,
then lay them at her feet, along with their breath, the light
that bounces off some 100,000 Beaux-Art mosaic tiles
that make up Liberty, Legislation, Justice, Governance,
and raise a collective voice, assembled from fragments,
beneath the Rotunda, city center to which all have claim. Today some audience,
also part of this unlawful gathering, wears etched orange vests:
Tourists. Do Not Arrest. They ask, We’re from New York.
Is it true we’re not allowed to look?

The Raging Grannies sing in calico aprons and dahlia-trimmed, wide-brimmed hats.
Veterans for Peace, visiting this week, comes to sing and fly a flag.
Have you been to jail for justice? The Capitol Police tell
people who only stand and watch leave: Tell
a teenaged boy leave. Tell the orange-vested grandparents leave.
Tell a mom and her three children leave.
They say we all must clear the viewing area, an unlawful
assembly. But what if we’re quiet as stone, still as marble,
see-through as glass?
They gather their offering to Liberty, Legislation,
Justice and Governance, arrest 20-some singers again
today: old people, clergy, veterans, teenagers,
students, mothers with children, photographers.
Just doing their job. An older woman wearing a tie-died  shirt lies down
on the granite floor to do hers. When

the singing ends, so do the arrests, though people still stay to talk in the Capitol
full-up with art: murals and sculptures, marble and glass. Including “The Trial
of Chief Oshkosh.” Including “The Opening of the Panama Canal.” Including
“Wisconsin,” the hollow, gold-leafed woman in a long,
Empire-style dress at the very top of the dome, who wears a hat
with a badger, another state symbol, perched
on top of it: commission given to, then stolen
from, an actual Wisconsin woman,
Helen Farnsworth Mears.
The Capitol tour covers rocks and fossils: Nautiloid, Gastropod, Burrows,
Coral, Ammonoid, Bryozoans, Brachiopods, sedentary animals
of the ancient sea floor. Covers 19th century New York. Covers artistic time capsules.
Governance, also sedentary, likes it that way. Bullies Justice, who
keeps her mouth shut. Ignores an old journalist taking notes. Leers at Liberty.

Wendy Vardaman is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), co-editor/webmaster of Verse Wisconsin, and co-founder/co-editor of Cowfeather Press. She is one of Madison, Wisconsin's two Poets Laureate (2012-2015).