Four Freedoms Park

Roosevelt Island, New York City
The fourth is freedom from fear . . .
—Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
Annual Message to Congress January 6, 1941
The weed is the Nemesis of human endeavor . . .
—Henry Miller


Then—as if someone had switched on a black light in the sky—
the traceries of dread just visible all around her, the curving
       trajectories of each possible disaster
once seen, now indelible
Bristling stems of mugwort sheared to resemble a lawn
rhizomatic: ineradicable
each torn scrap giving rise 
to a new plant
The Penitentiary Hospital
The New York City Lunatic Asylum 
The Blackwell Island Workhouse 
The Smallpox Hospital
The Charity Hospital
our standing army of paupers, criminals, and sick poor” 
This whole repurposed
dry sponge of rootstalks, map
of the neural pathways 
tunneled out
by fear
Her eight-year-old at the beach adorning
his ring of sandcastles with bits of shell and twig reciting the “Day 
of Infamy” speech, “we will not only defend ourselves
to the uttermost
but will make it very certain
that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.” The crumbling 
gray crenellations
The smallpox 
hospital “our only 
landmarked ruin”
“No Trespassing: Structure is unstable” the winsome
of bindweed
at its feet
its gaping gneiss face blushed
with Virginia creeper its body a copse of sumac
In Korea, smallpox is referred to as “Your Majesty” in an effort to 
      appease the god.
Eradicated circa 1980. 
Who now will ride
the horses made of straw 
made to tempt the smallpox
spirits to ride home? 
Plaques of cellophane 
subdue the East River
The tram released like a dispensation across the swollen sky “the line
      of flight
is part of the rhizome. These lines 
always tie back to one another.”
Garbage circulating underground 
soundlessly, a system
of pneumatic tubes
The monument’s honed granite 
a luxury of specific intention, like all luxuries most
poignant at its defined 
edges, subject
to encroachment, exhaustion
loosestrife, prostrate spurge

From You Are Here: Poetry in the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, 2024), edited by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2024 Milkweed Editions and the Library of Congress. Used with the permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.