A trip that ends with a return to where one started
Ezra Pound tried to hold the doors of the Metro for me
This afternoon at rush hour.
I started towards him, but hesitated—
He withdrew his arm and held my gaze as the doors pressed tight
and the cars on the Green Line rattled away.
The man next to me on the platform shook his head,
“It’s not an elevator, you know,
You can lose a limb doing that.”
Some say Ezra lost much more than that.
What was it that got him tossed as a madman into
St. Elizabeths this time?
Was it his weekly speech against Obama
On Rush Limbaugh’s radio show?
Or those diatribes about
Muslims and Mexicans?
The DC jury ruled he had an unsound mind,
But years before he had his day in court
And came to rest his head on an institutional pillow,
The army made him sleep on concrete
In an outdoor cage in Pisa for his traitorous crimes.
Now he dreams of Gitmo
Where no lawyer can set foot.
There is a difference, he says, between
Cuban breezes and Italian swelter.
There is a difference
Between the baseless accusations against me
And the ones against them.
At the hospital
He has few visitors, only the daughter of Shakespear.
She chastizes him for his self-pity:
Did you expect Walt Whitman to sit here at your bedside
Offering comfort as if you had been the one wounded?
Dr. Olverholser tells him once more
That he is incurably insane, but assures him
That his poetry shouldn’t suffer.
Ezra demands an iPad, receives pen and paper.
What will come of these scribblings, these songs?
His musings from a darkened table
In the Chestnut Ward,
On heaven and earth, esoterica,
Fracking and Game of Thrones,
These will not win him notice again from the Library of Congress
Or his permanent release.
I saw him holding forth a week later, sprung on a day pass.
He was handing out Trump leaflets
At the door of Kramerbooks
From a bundle hidden inside a copy of the Blade.
When a crowd gathered to argue and jeer,
He disappeared down the deep escalator at Dupont.
Half an hour and one transfer later
Ezra’s train stops. He collects his thoughts,
Gets off at the Congress Heights station,
A rainsoaked ghost dodging tree branches,
Bicycles and black citizens along the sidewalk.
He trudges up the hill to a building that has been emptied
Of all but its history.
The train that brought him out this far
Has already left the station.
“Periplum” is a term coined by Ezra Pound (October 30, 1885 – November 1, 1972), one of the towering figures of American modernism, and author of “In a Station of the Metro” as well as the epic poem The Cantos (1917 – 1969). Pound was paid by the Italian government during WWII to make hundreds of pro-fascist, anti-American, anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. He was arrested by American forces in 1945, charged with treason, and spent months in detention in a US military camp in Pisa, including 3 weeks exposed in an outdoor steel cage measuring just 6 x 6 feet. After he was subsequently deemed unfit to stand trial, he was moved to Washington, DC and incarcerated from 1946 to 1958 at a psychiatric facility, St Elizabeths Hospital. He stayed on the Chestnut Ward, and the hospital superintendent, Dr. Winfred Overholser, Sr., protected him from further criminal prosecution and allowed him privileges not shared by other inmates. Congress Heights Metro station is the closest subway stop to the hospital. While at St. Elizabeths, now a US National Historic Landmark, Pound worked on the Pisan Cantos (including the sections “Rock-Drill” and “Thrones”) and controversially won the prestigious Bollingen Prize in Poetry from the Library of Congress, and was visited by his wife Dorothy Shakespear, as well as numerous prominent figures in American letters, including John Berryman, Archibald MacLeish, and Elizabeth Bishop, who wrote “Visits to St. Elizabeths” about the experience.
Kit Bonson is a neuroscientist in the DC area with undergrad degrees in English and psychology. She has been an activist for peace and justice and for reproductive health for over 30 years. She is also a Board member of Split This Rock and is the founder of Split This Rock’s Annual Abortion Rights Poetry Contest.