In 1960, Robert Lowell wrote a poem for the Boston Arts Festival. In it, he contrasted contemporary Boston—dug up to make room for more parking garages—with the nobility of the city’s past, focusing on the image of Boston Common’s memorial to Robert Gould Shaw carelessly supported by a plank, as bulldozers “gouge their underworld garage.” Shaw, who served as colonel of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of black soldiers, died heroically. Now, Lowell wrote, his monument—inscribed “Relinquunt omnia servare rem publicam” (“They give up everything to serve the Republic”) ... “sticks like a fishbone / in the city’s throat.”—Sage Stossel
Relinquunt omnia servare rem publicam.
The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles,
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.