Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

The Apologist (#3)


The miracles are all missing. The mammoths are extinct. Forgive us, Thomas Jefferson, for how we use you now. Forgive us our trespasses, how easily we ascribe words to your mouth that never left it, how we bend you to our own needs for small government, for big government. Forgive us the way we dig for your faults, your “all men are created equal” rubbing against the slaves of Monticello, your “pursuit of happiness” against your “dusky Sally.” Forgive us our forgetting of your homemade Bible, all the miracles cut out, all the moral teachings left. Forgive us our public schooling. Forgive us our church, our state. Forgive us that we do not head into the wilderness, keeping watch for the wooly mammoth, the way you instructed Lewis and Clark to do. Forgive us that our cashiers do not recognize the two-dollar bill as legal tender. Forgive us, for what this country needs is a good five-cent cigar, a moment of peace bought with a portrait of you. Forgive us, for we returned to vice-presidents who shoot people but not to presidents who are gentleman farmers. Forgive us, for we have kept the Declaration under bulletproof glass for decades, and we don’t know how a living document can breathe when it is trapped in noble gas, a kind of elemental aristocracy. Forgive us, for we have forgotten the joys of France. Forgive us our Freedom Fries. Forgive us, Thomas Jefferson, for we are become you: we spend too much, we take too much pleasure in food and wine, we make a thousand Louisiana Purchases every day and do not ask permission. Make us less like you, Thomas Jefferson, Sage of Monticello. The cashiers look at us with suspicion, about to call their managers over. What this country needs is a good five cents.

Colin Rafferty lives in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches nonfiction writing at the University of Mary Washington. His collection of essays on monuments, Hallow This Ground, will be published by Break Away Books in early 2016. "The Apologist (#3)" is one of a series of 44 short essays about the presidents; others have appeared in Brevity, Parcel, and Prime Number. You can follow him on Twitter at @colintrafferty.