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That spirit of freedom which at the commencement of this contest would have gladly sacrificed everything to the attainment of its object, has long since subsided, and every selfish passion has taken its place.


That spirit of freedom which at the commencement of this contest would have gladly sacrificed everything to the attainment of its object, has long since subsided, and every selfish passion has taken its place. It is not the public, but the private interest, which influences the generality of mankind, nor can the Americans any longer boast an exception.

– George Washington, letter to John Laurens, July 1782

Sovereignty

Flight ninety-three to San Francisco
Lies scattered on the ground
An hour’s drive from Gettysburg.

The fourth plane was meant for the Capitol.
By some omission the capital had not foreseen
This day against which it had borrowed liberty,
Issued bonds of surety and safety,
In the unlikely event of a change in pressure.

Under control long ago seized
From mere passengers
Regulations forbade
The only good warning of that day,
Cell phones their CIA.
Disarmed at the gate
There were seats with straps
For each of them to thank,
Drink cart their Abrams Tank.
Down the hall to batter down the door
And down a death tax will not turn away,
It is certain only death can pay.

The flag is lowering fast. And on fire
Of the people who wrapped themselves in the shroud
By the people who made it a relic of faith
For the people who shall not perish from the earth
Overturned and burned in Somerset County.

The memorial was built before the death.
The writing is on the wall to either side
Of the judgement seat. You are weighed
In the balance of experience
Of one who was both
Militiaman and dictator. He wrote these words;
His hands rest from their pen on fasces.
This is not an answer, so no certainty.
If liberty, we do not all mean the same thing by it,
If tyranny, then thus it ever be to it.

But in the end he did not take
Advantage of the government discount.
Read that price on his receipt
As torn from columns without scroll;
As proof of purchase carved in marble.
These rights are not yours unless lived,
These words are not yours unless taken.

In the great white temple of the colossus
I saw one man, black, read it intently.
This is not a tomb, so no solemnity.
He looks across the dirty pool to see.
He looks across the patchy lawn to see.

In Congress, assembled under clear skies
Now unafraid to stand outside on
The steps and pledge allegiance from recess returning;
By amendment save worn cloth from burning.
To their char not one stitch can restore.
In gratitude not theirs to give they will permit
The remains to rest in a new row among
The veterans in terra cotta earth and let
The grass to grow right over them.
And make a certain outlay for the dead
Green will be laid to cover red.

The Executive, ringed with guards and agents
Now unafraid to speak within the walls
And vow, let’s roll; bring it on. It was not yours to bring
An act worthy of patriots when
The worthy who did act have brought and gone.
They are held incommunicado; for you took
Those words that are not yours and
You will little note nor long remember
How your words will roll right over them.
And one imagines he could never say this yet
The son has philosophical regret
That some of them did not know Jesus.
Today above the Mall you in discernment
May look down and see the saved and the elect.
Produce the body.

Their contrailing ghost flies by light of day.
Their banner flows from sea to shining sea each day.
This flag is not yours. Away it takes the old direction west
Remember they will not always be at rest.

They are beyond recognition in the woods; they are
In anonymity in fresh graves at Arlington.
The small white stones at least distance indistinguished by
The great white sepulchres of figurines. Not yours,
They died for their country.
Among them many liberal and queer
Not serenity but
Sovereignty is here.

Appearing on Glasstire as part of the Voting Machine project, fall 2004.
Carl Gustav Horn is the anime and manga editor at Dark Horse Comics. He is the co-author of Japan Edge: The Insider’s Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture.

also by Carl Gustav Horn
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