by Scott McVay

The FDR Memorial

walks along the Potomac

the four-term

New Deal President’s

ideas are seized in stone

at each turn

The larger than life man is seen in 3D

the wife Eleanor

(alone) –– full height ––

in a kind of separate stand-alone

say it and speak to it (tomb)

Water splashes here and there, not only

in the coursing river,

the depression & war

receding years fly by

in a past

larger deeper

than the future

Near the close,

knowing the earlier

low years of the mid 30s

is the Depression Bread Line,

the work that defines the memorial

what the crippled leader

sought to overcome

and did

It’s a somber hatted line of

five men, distilled from

George’s boyhood

so it was a little jolt

in June to see five Presidential Scholars

clowning & posing

interleaved in between

bright as they are

but not knowing

not knowing

what it’s like to be

without bread

what it’s taken to get

the frail democracy to

where we are

“click,” snap

“snap,” maybe click

and they’re gone,

the bread line stands

as a sober chrysalis

one of a 1,000 markers

defining who we are

where we’re heading

Your eyes are held

held by the gravity

of the men standing there

but eventually the eye

travels to the right

where a man is bent over

his radio

catching every word

of a fireside chat

and on the left

the Appalachian couple

(from Berkeley Heights

(Billy Kluver and his wife)

standing, emerging

and the whole, the three works

are the soul, the conscience,

the memory of the man

his years as leader

encompassing the attack on Pearl Harbor

& the galvanizing response

the words are Franklin Delano’s

the images George Segal’s

the memory indelible

the source a chicken coop

with wings Helen close by.

Scott McVay was founding executive director of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. He was the 16th president of the Chautauqua Institution. He is fascinated by the songs of Nature and the songs of humanity.

The author notes: This poem, though written a dozen years ago, seems relevant to our times today and celebrates one of the Garden State’s great artists, George Segal, whose work, especially The Bread Line, redeems the memorial to FDR along the Potomac. (Not too long ago George’s widow Helen and daughter deeded his papers to the Princeton University Art Museum.)

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