by Katherine E. Young
Arlington County Poet Laureate, 2016 – 2018
(On the swearing in of Libby Garvey to a second term on the Arlington County Board, December 13, 2016)
“Men have every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has
been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.”
– Jane Austen, Persuasion
There is method in our work:
when we fished the teeming river,
wove grass mats to wall longhouses,
sowed seed corn (all this before
the riverine plantations, glebes,
the boundary stones, canals and harbors,
the Federal city, Confederate ramparts,
the freedman’s village, five-sided forts).
There is power in our work:
when we, the daughters of Africa,
were yoked to plow and sow and reap
Potomac fields in blazing heat;
when Elizabeth Ball birthed five girls
on a farm where she kept bees, sheep, pigs;
when Anne Carlin built a dairy,
started a restaurant near a spring.
There is beauty in our work:
when we embroidered watered silk,
held ice cream socials in our front parlors,
crimped our hair in permanent waves,
hired out to fill impermanent slots
while young men fought across the seas;
when Roberta sang at Macedonia
Baptist Church, killing us softly.
There is valor in our work:
when we scrubbed the floors of boarding
houses, toiled in Rosslyn’s brothels,
saloons; when we nursed and taught
and dreamed of more; when Grace Hopper
built compilers, when Gloria Thompson
climbed the stairs to integrate Stratford
Junior High. When we sat in.
There is honor in our work,
honor for the women whose steps
we trace when we drive the buses,
wrangle budgets, enforce the laws,
ensure the jail’s staffed. Chair the council.
Collect taxes. Honor in the offerings
of our own bodies, spirits, minds:
honor in the work of our hands.
Copyright Katherine E. Young, 2016
This is an original poem written for Arlington County by the Arlington Poet Laureate, a program of Arlington Cultural Affairs and Arlington Public Library.