Poet's Choice: 'Lady Freedom Among Us'

By Rita Dove
Sunday, March 15, 2009

I read this poem at the ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the United States Capitol and the restoration of the Statue of Freedom to the Capitol dome on October 23, 1993. It was first published in the Congressional Record of the same day.


don't lower your eyes

or stare straight ahead to where

you think you ought to be going


don't mutter oh no

not another one

get a job fly a kite

go bury a bone


with her oldfashioned sandals

with her leaden skirts

with her stained cheeks and whiskers and heaped up trinkets


she has risen among us in blunt reproach

she has fitted her hair under a hand-me-down cap

and spruced it up with feathers and stars

slung over one shoulder she bears

the rainbowed layers of charity and murmurs

all of you even the least of you


don't cross to the other side of the square

don't think another item to fit on a tourist's agenda


consider her drenched gaze her shining brow

she who has brought mercy back into the streets

and will not retire politely to the potter's field


having assumed the thick skin of this town

its gritted exhaust its sunscorch and blear

she rests in her weathered plumage

bigboned resolute


don't think you can ever forget her

don't even try

she's not going to budge


no choice but to grant her space

crown her with sky

for she is one of the many

and she is each of us


Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company