Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

“The Arlington Story,” a history pamphlet published by Arlington Public Schools in 1962, offered a matter-of-fact explanation of what today might be called voter suppression. “A capitation or ‘poll’ tax is required by the Virginia Constitution,” reads the essay edited by teacher and Arlington Historical Society member Seymour Stiss. “It is a tax of $150 that is levied on voters. In order to vote, the citizen must have paid this tax for three years previous to the time of voting. This payment must be made six months before the election.”

Unmentioned is the fact that the poll tax was designed in Richmond in 1902 to weed out certain voters, primarily African Americans. That is why the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966, in a Virginia case, banned poll taxes for state and local elections, declaring that “wealth or fee paying has … no relation to voting qualifications; the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned.” The pamphlet reminded me of how “the Arlington Story” changes and depends on the identity of the storyteller.

I picked up a copy of the “Written in Arlington: Poems of Arlington, Virginia” edited by Katherine E. Young, our poet laureate emerita. Published quietly last fall during the pandemic, it showcases storytelling via 150 poems by 87 poets who “live, work, study, worship in or simply pass through…and in so doing, make Arlington their own,” Young explains. She nodded to famous Arlington-based poets — George Washington Parke Custis, Doors singer Jim Morrison, and Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, the Native American federal official for whom the former Henry Clay Park in Lyon Park was recently renamed).

In selecting current talent, Young stretched “Arlington” to include those referencing Georgetown or Bailey’s Crossroads. She also relied on poets who’d read at Iota Club and Cafe (late of Clarendon) and the Wakefield High School Poet Club.
The result was printed by Arlington-based Paycock Press, with a grant from the cultural affairs division of Arlington Economic Development and the Commission for the Arts. Poetry is a tough sell.

The companion digital project “Spoken in Arlington” has but 15 subscribers on YouTube. As contributor Deanna D’Errico put it, “Poets hawk their words; like pearls and pomegranates…pocket fisherman for a coin of listen.” But I was pleased with highlights that struck me as “Arlingtonish.”

Rebecca Leet wrote of “a flamboyant male cardinal trilling prettee as he surveys mallards fishing in frigid Four Mile Run.”

Ben Nardolilli described eavesdropping in Westover “from this beer garden perch,” as people “make war on a nearby dive bar,” saying it “attracts an undesirable element.”

Jacqueline Jules composed an “Ode to a Pink House,” the conspicuous one on George Mason Drive at Frederick St: “You remind me of so many choices I abandoned in the paint store.”

Paul Hopper’s “Patterns in Darkness” says windows on “tall buildings in Rosslyn…form patterns of board games.”
Sarah Lilius’s “Ode to Fairlington”: “Brick beside brick, we keep it together.”

Amy Young intrigued with: “Just past the Kiss & Ride, at Wilson Boulevard and Fort Myer Drive a woman sits. This is her job.”

And Michael Schaffner addressed a neighborhood where residents were hit by that poll tax: “The homes of Hall’s Hill now vanish like Reconstruction’s evanescent dream into a cancer of McMansions.”

I took a stroll last Saturday along the spiffy near-mile-long footbridge in renovated Long Bridge Park. It is well marked with Boeing Fields (for the nearby corporate donor), soccer fields and lush greenery by the railroad tracks. But still fenced off with Covid signage is the $60 million Long Bridge Aquatics & Fitness Center, for which construction by Coakley & Williams began in 2018. Too bad it is late in opening for the summer, as promised in May.

Opening swim day will be in August, says county parks spokeswoman Martha Holland. The pandemic delayed the schedule only “slightly,” but the design/build contract stabilized costs. Ribbon cutting set for Sept. 24.