Restoring the Eidsvaag Bell
— a poem to celebrate fifteen decades of history
On the eve of a mighty civil war,
molten steel was poured
into a bell shaped emptiness, hissing,
as it filled the void. Down the street,
a lava of steel made cannonballs and bullets.
Each foundry brought out wooden mallets
to crack open their cores, to show the world
what had been formed in the darkness—
from one foundry: a bell with a tongued clapper,
from the other: gunpowder and oblivion.
After soldiers fell like stalks of wheat
and our hemorrhaging borders were sutured together,
the bullets were lost to history, the cannonballs
were melted down into ploughshares,
but the bell was raised in a tower—ropes groaning.
Land stakes were driven into soil
and hammers clanged against steel.
This is how a college is born.
The bell, like a blind hourglass,
meditated above it all, waiting.
Fifteen decades later,
I watch students rush to class,
they pass through other students who wear
bowler hats, some dance the Charleston,
others worry about withered crops and dust storms.
Many have war memories locked in their closets,
others wear tie-dyes, their feet sandaled like Jesus.
Still others skateboard past, their legs pumping,
pumping, pumping, towards imagined selves.
Their skin is a foggy presence here,
they wiff down the sidewalk, gliding now
through other souls just like them.
Meanwhile, trees open their budded fists,
and professors like me grow old
on this island of youth and ambition.
Like that bell, we know the truth:
that it all blends together,
that on these footpaths ghosts pass through ghosts,
migratory birds come and go, leaves fall, snow melts,
green shoots poke up from the ground, that same ground
where land stakes once banged home,
and a bell—a bell that has been forgotten—
finds its voice again. It magnetizes the air.
Dr. Patrick Hicks, Associate Professor of English
Presented on Sesquicentennial Day
September 8, 2010