Independence Day: Asked to write a poem for a patriotic occasion, most poets feel an instinct to retreat, rapidly. So it must have taken a particular kind of courage, or fatalism in the form of cheerful resolve, for Rita Dove to respond when she was asked, on the 200th anniversary of the United States Capitol in 1993, to write a poem for the figure of Liberty atop the newly restored Capitol dome. The poem appeared in the Congressional Record at the time and it has been reprinted in her new book of poems, On the Bus with Rosa Parks (Norton). The figure she imagined is something of a bag lady and something of a Christ figure, and she won't go away. Here is the poem:

Lady Freedom Among Us

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 her 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

"Lady Freedom Among Us," from On the Bus With Rosa Parks, by Rita Dove

(W.W. Norton & Company).