Lowell, Robert

July in Washington

Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 2006
DC Places Issue

July in Washington

The stiff spokes of this wheel
touch the sore spots of the earth.

On the Potomac, swan-white
power launches keep breasting the sulphurous wave.

Otters slide and dive and slick back their hair,
raccoons clean their meat in the creek.

On the circles, green statues ride like South American
liberators above the breeding vegetation—

prongs and spearheads of some equatorial
backland that will inherit the globe.

The elect, the elected . . . they come here bright as dimes,
and die dishevelled and soft.

We cannot name their names, or number their dates—
circle on circle, like rings on a tree—

but we wish the river had another shore,
some further range of delectable mountains,

distant hills powdered blue as a girl’s eyelid.
It seems the least little shove would land us there,

that only the slightest repugnance of our bodies
we no longer control could drag us back.


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Robert Lowell (March 1, 1917 - September 12, 1977) is the author of 16 books of poems, including The Dolphin (1973), Life Studies (1959), The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951) and Lord Weary’s Castle (1946). His life was marked by passion and depression, with repeated hospitalizations, marital strife, and strong religious and political beliefs that led to his imprisonment as a conscientious objector during WWII and protests against the war in Vietnam—experiences that are reflected throughout his Confessional poetry. Lowell was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. He served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC from 1947-1948.