Liberty Cracks

The greatest Leonard Cohen lines:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Saw the actual, original, iconic cracked bell in Philadelphia today. The Liberty Bell. “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

lib bell

Funny thing about it. The bell got little hairline cracks in it since its creation in  1751. Just small seams, which were “bored out” and superficially repaired. But the repairs themselves damaged the metal so that when they attempted to ring it in 1846 for George Washington’s birthday it went totally silent, absolutely broken and never to be fixed again. According to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “It gave out clear notes and loud, and appeared to be in excellent condition until noon, when it received a sort of compound fracture in a zig-zag direction through one of its sides which put it completely out of tune and left it a mere wreck of what it was.”

Isn’t all liberty personal, first and foremost? Across the street from the Liberty Bell we saw a raised planter with a private shrine that had been maintained for years, as fastidiously as its more famous iconic neighbor. Someone was free to mourn, free to celebrate this Woody as they chose.


Personal liberty. After Gil gave his book interview at the local NPR station, we took the turnpike north. We listened to our new poet laureate, Richard Blanco, read from his lofty yet intimate inaugural poem, “One Today.” I’m excited that I heard Blanco read from his work only a few months ago at the Miami Book Fair, where he sat in a small room on a panel with some other terrific poets. He was unassuming and personable. He delivered a wonderful poem about what it was like to grow up gay in a Latin household under the eagle eye of his grandmother. I can’t get a link to those lines at the moment, but here is another poem he read that day, “The Gulf Motel,” a beautiful paean to a place he spent time at with his family. For the president to select a young man (only 44) who is openly gay and who delves into his rich ethnic background for his work — this is liberating for us all.

Philadelphia was quiet and cold. All of its energy seemed to be sucked away to Washington, D.C. But there were still philly cheesesteaks at jam-packed Reading Terminal Market — I wolfed mine down so fast I didn’t have time to take a picture. There was time to buy ox-tails, smoked pork backs and blood-red chicken meat for dogs, something I had a hankering to do since admiring Oliver’s likeness in stone on the way to the Market.

oliver in stone

Oliver represents perfect liberty, the freedom to eat bloody chicken, roll on his back in the icy snow, chew things up, growl, yelp, yap at will. Don’t fence him in.


“…Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.”

I guess I could wish for a little more dog in that sentiment. Otherwise it’s just about perfect.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Jean Zimmerman, Music, Poetry, Publishing

One response to “Liberty Cracks

  1. What a great day you must have had. I love the poetry and the lines from the Leonard Cohen song.

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