Poem: Visiting Monticello’s House – The New York Times


In this poem, the speaker ruminates on the legacy of Thomas Jefferson via a real or imagined visit to Monticello, Jefferson’s residence and plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia. Notably, the word “slavery” is never directly stated, perhaps as a way of reflecting the silence that often surrounds the more hidden aspects of Jefferson’s legacy. The poem begins in the third person and in the unsaid: “What they never say is: Mr. Jefferson’s still/building,” bringing Jefferson’s ghostly presence into modern times. But in the 10th line, the poem skilfully shifts to the second person: “Do you know the room/where you were born? It’s part of the tour,” involving not only Jefferson’s legacy, but also the figurative Monticello we live in today. Selected by Victoria Chang

Visit to Monticello’s house

By Kiki Petrosino

What they never say is: Mr. Jefferson is always
building. He just uses transparent bricks now
for its turrets & halls, for the balconies
skirting her palate in transparent curls
hollow air. After death it’s so easy
work. no one sees him come out
of the Residence, the gloves full
silent mortar. Mr. Jefferson’s coat is narrow
like dawn. Her long sleeves drag in the mud
as he mows his lawn. You know the room
were you born in? It’s part of the tour. Hundreds
rooms that unfold for miles, living orchards
in the living room. Remember that golden chair you loved,
the one with a lion’s face, especially
at the end of winter, when mom sat with you
in her pink dress, humming? As it happens
Mr. Jefferson built you this lion. He drew
your time in prudent proportions. you have one
work: to fit the design, it keeps spinning.
Your whole life is intertwined through a ring
similar finds. Look, it’s all mothers
in pink robes, humming.

Victoria Chang is a poet whose fifth book of poems, “Obit” (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. Her nonfiction book, “Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief,” was published by Milkweed Editions in 2021. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA program at Antioch University. Kiki Petrosino is an American poet whose latest collection of poetry is “White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia” (Sarabande Books, 2020), from which this poem is taken. She directs the creative writing program at the University of Virginia.

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