JAMES MONROE

by Brian Oliu

Here, James — strong-legged, crisp-eyed on the edge of the most famous painting of our most famous boat: hands on a newly sewn flag to let us know:it is us who are coming, us who are crashing through the ice. Where I am from, we learn these names first: Santa synonymous with liberation — a surprise in the evening after the ham has been cut like a spiral, after the presents have been torn open. On Christmas Day, a re-enactment: the crossing begins at one o’clock in the afternoon; a good twenty-three hours before Washington ever stepped into a boat, though, perhaps, this is for the best: children have been up for hours now, and to ask them to stay awake in the Titusville cold a shade before the crushing disappointment of December 26th would be too much to expect, especially considering speeches of revolution tend to fall on deaf ears when there are fire trucks to be rolled over tiled floors and things to imagine. They meet across the river in an inn where our boys ate dinner — we would like to think that there is a tradition carried over from the old world: a turkey, some sausage, a plum-coated threepence bitten into by wooden teeth.

Anywhere else, the flag comes first: the brave boy in battle, the drummer marking time, the head male cheerleader, the mascot in covered tennis shoes.

The beards they have been growing through Advent scratch the linsey-woolsey — no burlap, no denim, certainly. We cannot picture you, James, with a beard: we have a hard time picturing you clean-shaven as well — you were the last of the painted ones, no photography, no moment of yours captured in an instant. James, your powdered wig tied in a queue, your tricorne, your knee breeches. We see you here, eyes on the shoreline. We see you wounded in the corner while the smug-faced surrender Trenton, a bullet in your shoulder. We see you after the fact — after we have won.

No one is supposed to play you, James. The only acknowledged role is of George: all others play the generic role of an officer without rank: Burr is there, Marshall and Hamilton too. Later, on the shore, the children in their new coats will wave their arms up and down, the vinyl brushing against itself making the sound of a record scratching. They will ask where George is, and their mothers will point: see? He’s at the front near the man holding the flag.

 

***

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His collection of Craigslist Missed Connections, ‘So You Know It’s Me’, was released by Tiny Hardcore Press in 2011. His collection of lyric essays based off of videogame boss battles, ‘Level End’, was released by Origami Zoo Press in 2012.

* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.

MobyLives