The Gargantuan Arm, and: Weight, and: Song of the Song
Statue of Liberty, US, France, race, freedom, history
shame, guilt, weight
song, epic, tragedy
The Gargantuan Arm
Let us remember liberty was not popular,six years it took Laboulaye to convinceBartholdi a gigantic statue waswhat New York harbor needed. Elevenyears later the Frenchmanarrived in Philadelphia with her gargantuan arm.Forty-two-feet high, two tons of torch.Displayed at the peak of America's backwardslide into emancipation, it looks nowlike a statue sunk in sand. Sowere its finances. Weeks laterJoseph Reed was dragged fromhis cell in Nashville, Tennessee, andhung from a suspension bridge byan angry mob. "Hardly had Reedbeen lodged in jail before the subjectof lynching him became the subject of generaldiscussion," the Memphis DailyAppeal reported.
Its fundraising tour in Philadelphiacomplete, Bartholdi and crew dismantledthe appendage, packed it intocrates, and loaded her on a train to New York City.For six years the arm sat in Madison Square Parkas Harper's railed against Americans'having to pay for its pedestal. Raising pennies.Coins. You could climb up inside of Liberty, itwas grand, a view. But not the person takingyour ticket. People loved it. Workerson the project back in France got married,had children, died. Kipling came [End Page 60] to Paris in 1878 when Bartholdi showedthe head and was told he'd peeredthrough the eyes of Liberty herself. Thatsame year Michael Green was draggedfrom his cell in Upper Marlboro, Maryland,a noose thrown round his neck, and hisbody raised fifteen feet from the ground. Itwas left there until the following morning.
In June of 1884, an Americandiplomat in Paris hosted an opulentbanquet to celebrate the statue'scompletion, all of Parisiansociety there in clothes pressedand washed by others. Black servantsmoving through the room swiftly.Did any of the guests regard the armsthat swept over their heads, to whiskaway the china and cutlerybefore a new course arrived? Did theymarvel at the strength of a human-sizedarm that can carry a tray weighing thirty orforty pounds and remain unseen?Not spill a drop of wine or sweat?And did any of the men waitering thatnight pause for a cigarette, orstand outside looking in at the glassbanquet hall, with its crystalchandelier and its small-scalemodel of Liberty and know itwas not for him? [End Page 61]
What if each timeyou caused paina small, round stonewas put in your pocketpebbles for inducingself-doubtosmium for death.When you heardsomeone approachtheir pockets noisyyou'd know,just like dogs do:to keep distance.Some menwould pull wagonsbehind them,their pants disfigured.They'd be shamedfrom sidewalksdelayed at customs,they could neverlie flat on beds.They'd haveto stand feelingthe weight ofwhat they'd done. [End Page 62]
Song of the Song
I wish we were livinga story of desire, butI don't feel Odysseusbeating out his taleof longing at the oarsas we row toward thiswar. I don't sensea heart burning—this isjust vengeance—noteven tragic becausethe fire that will raindown does not sayTake my son and Iwill scorch this earth.Some of uscould appreciate anaria of pain, a mouthshaped to a hornplaying one terriblenote. But we don't evenget that note, it is drownedby the other, the oneheard every daynow, it says more,I can do anything, watchme engulf the world,oh lord, I am greaterthan even you. [End Page 63]
John Freeman is the author of Dictionary of the Undoing (FSG, 2019) and several other books, including Maps (Copper Canyon, 2017), a collection of poems. The founder of the literary annual Freeman's, he is artist in residence at New York University. His latest books are Tales of Two Planets (Penguin, 2020), an anthology of new writing on climate change and inequality, and The Park (Copper Canyon, 2020), a collection of poems. His work has been translated into over twenty languages.