First, there were men who piled stones
along the seashore to honor a brother fallen.
Then, there were men who told stories
and listeners learned the stories,
preserving and circulating their contents.
Next, there were men who sat on a scaffold
and inscribed figures into hard stone,
visible to gleaming eyes in the distance, across the river.
Men with saucers of paint behind them,
illustrating a hunt on animal hide.
A curious girl watching.
Men who slouched over folios in pale light,
straining their vision to illuminate manuscripts.
Men who pulled the handle of the printing press.
To copy. To copy.
The concept of an ideal republic is abstract.
Good government, bad government,
one is an oak tree, guardian lions,
emancipation, a bridle and reins, a sword, a shield.
Prosperity, equality, each citizen his or her
own contribution regardless of creed.
Voting urns atop stacks of books,
wheat feeding their mouths, high standard
for civil servants.
The other is tangled grapevines, cornucopias
overflowing with coins, no fruits, no grains,
bags of gold for bribes, the scales of justice
leaning toward fraud, the Book of Law on fire,
earmarked at corruption, broken, empty jars
spilling air, factories smokeless and idle.
The evolution of civilization is not
a collective caging of souls. In spite of
pockets of oppression, science.
In spite of organized erasure, literature.
Our leader says,
go back where you came from.
Nil invita Minerva, quae monumentum aere perennius exegit.
Alia Hussain Vancrown has published in journals and magazines in print and online. Her poetry has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Alia works at the Library of Congress in the Law Division. She currently resides in Maryland. For more, please visit www.aliahussainvancrown.com and Instagram @