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Mount Vernon

by Liana Alaverdova
translation by Lydia Razran Stone

To the State of Virginia we’ve come
To the home of its favorite son,
George Washington.

Put your hand on this railing of wood.
Did his hand rest here, too, as he stood
And thought on the work he’d begun,
George Washington?

To this study he came before dawn
And sat keeping the books for his farm.
It was here that he greeted the sun,
George Washington.

All his things are so simple, austere
One can guess that a soldier lived here,
Who was trained all excesses to shun,
Like George Washington.

Though these tomes stand so proud on the shelves,
They’re but copies of his books themselves
(Stored in archives for national treasure)
That he read in rare moments of leisure,
When a full day of work had been done,
By George Washington.

Now this room to the right through these doors
Is the family’s pantry for stores.
All we see is well-ordered and neat:
The coal scuttle, the hook to hang meat,
Every trencher and pitcher and flask,
Every vat, every sack, every cask
In this household impeccably run,
By George Washington.

Over here in the back, in these sheds,
Was the bunkhouse where slaves had their beds.
Where they slept, where they ate, where they played,
And where somehow their babies got made.
They lived lives full of longing and pain.
Aching back, homesick heart, bitter brain.
So much pain can’t keep silent for long
So they poured out their anguish in song.
Could such songs leave him numb,
George Washington?

Here are tubs used for fish packed in brine.
Here are spinning wheels all in a line
Where slave girls sat all day spinning yarn
With bent backs to make cloth for the farm.
Was their foreman unjust or a knave?
Were they whipped much to make them behave?
Did he know this was done,
George Washington?

In this room is the bed where he lay
In the fever that bore him away.
His bedchamber, familiar and plain,
His own pillow, his old counterpane.
Did they soothe the great man as he died?
Was there time left to tell them goodbye,
Ere he moved on,
George Washington?

We emerge from the house in the dark,
Slowly walk through the grounds, now a park.
It is two hundred years since he died
But the river, the house by its side,
And the starlight that shows us the way
Do not seem to have changed since that day.
For a moment we feel we’re at one,
With George Washington.

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Copyright © 2010 by Liana Alaverdova
translation Copyright © 2010 by Lydia Razran Stone

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