Thanksgiving Thoughts


Form and Discipline

Volume 1, Issue 14
December 3, 2015


Thank you for your quiet. For the hush and shadow of entrance, the District dissolving behind. Here is the familiar thicket of columns, darkly-marbled, glassine. And the dome, the cream white crescent ahead. I watch it flower, unfolding with each step forward. It is a crisply coffered thing, heavy and very hollow. The high, dim sunbeams sift into the central oculus. They suspend for some seconds, then silently dissolve. Muted echoes mingle here—the child chatter, fountain splatter, shuffles and clusters of crowds. I am glad for this moment, before this rotunda breaks, bisects. Before the crowds circle, disperse. The sculpture halls will give way to galleries, and the galleries will reveal new universes. The low, dusky Monet room will wait. And the miniature Dutch still-life too, the one with the perfect tiger-striped orchid. Until then, I’m glad for this time and for this place to sit still, thankfully, in situ.


John Moss and his brother Thomas were in their house “twirling a Owl Head pistol like the cowboys did.”  When they kept dropping the pistol and denting the floor, their father took the pistol away and hid it.   Thomas asked, “John, what are we going to do now?”  John said, “We’re going to play with wood.”  Decades later, Mr. Moss is still playing with wood on the same farm that he grew up on in Sardis, Alabama.  As he says, “I don’t work, I play.” This master craftsman has handcrafted furniture that now sits in homes across the country and in Europe.  Colonel J. Floydridge Underwood went to work for Mr. Moss when he was home during the summers, and Mr. Moss allowed him to keep working since he “put things back where he found them.”  Now Col. Underwood is retiring from the Air Force next month and is moving back to Sardis (a town of approximately 1500 near Selma), to work with Mr. Moss.  Mr. Moss’s operation has grown from one small room to over ten buildings on the property, containing everything from a pre-Civil War band saw to automatic lathes to a complete metalworking shop to his own inventions.  I loved growing up in that part of Alabama, and it was heartening to see someone who lives where he has always wanted to and loves what he does.

The monuments of D.C. are really good at acting alive. History is chiseled into stone and scattered across a manicured green like a well-designed propaganda poster. Walking alongside the Vietnam Memorial, press your hand against the wall and feel the artificial heat come off the black reflective stone. At the National Portrait Gallery, look into the eyes of America’s best. They still breathe through their frames for you. Suffer up the steps to Lincoln and you’ll think you understand what it took to build the country at your back. Stand on the hill with him and you might catch yourself thinking he’s still watching over us. Visit the White House, but don’t speak too loudly. Don’t stand too close, either. Don’t worry, the layers of fences will help with that. Walk past federal buildings and let their neoclassical falsehood belittle you. There’s nothing behind those walls for you. For you, there are only the ruins of the national mall; “embalmed bodies” of this fine nation. Stone statues that seem real enough to make you forget you’re in a country’s cemetery.

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Volume 1, Issue 14
December 3, 2015

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