The first two colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts
trickling onto the continent like Jekyll and Hyde twins
one a bunch of rapscallions, crooks, and debtors
the other religious fanatics seeking Utopian perfection
to escape contamination by the world
or anything else different than they were
probably made a civil war inevitable
to forge two such unlikely halves
into a single nation.
How ironic that the libertines
ended up defending slavery
and the Puritan tyrants liberty.
The rest of the immigrants seemed to be running away from
as much as to anything they really wanted.
The lakes, rivers and land seemed to be an emptiness
whose topographical and climatic detail were important
only to how they matched somebody’s idea of how to live.
The native flora and fauna were naturally antecedent to that.
So there’s a long history about packing up our old kit bag
and leaving all our troubles far, far behind.
If you didn’t like this place there was always
another one down the road and if there wasn’t a road
well, we’d start one gloomily aware it’d probably be
a highway way too soon enough.
Meanwhile stirred by the ladle of civil war and frontier justice
the Scallywags and Puritans got all mixed up.
Eden started out as to back to land and ended up
a virgin you could rape and pillage with impunity,
a hole to fill with things.
Until like a prepubescent boy waking with an erection
we were drafted onto world stage as principal imperial power.
We were always the ones who knew about this special place
that nobody else knew anything about which was so clean
and so good until those other fools despite all our precautions
found out about it ruining it for everyone with brutish behavior.
It was bright, still, and pristine there where water was so pure
we drank from the stream and the ground water flowed free.
The old growth stopped the undergrowth and filtered the air.
We breathed free and eschewed any extreme.
Eden moved to tract homes in New Jersey.
We built roads faster than new places
could be found to build them to.
The family farm was yoked to agribusiness
and the cities were stopped up toilets
no one bothered to flush
for fear they’d overflow.
We all had to go to college somewhere
and everything that wasn’t nailed down
had to roll to a hole somewhere in California.
After all we were all gyrating in wide circular arcs
around the great financial towers beginning to mushroom
like toadstools at the hubs of money and power.
Perfect lawns created crab grass wars.
The run off had to collect somewhere.
This turned out to be just about
anywhere except our back yards.
The hangover from the industrial binge
made these Saturdays in the yard mandatory.
Golden arches vaulted across the land
offering pasture for our autos,
light in the dark night of the disappeared wilderness,
and burgers, fries and chocolate shakes
to keep our clogged arteries full.
The ice cream machine sucked the life
from the town centers
and squirted it out in parking lot malls.
We listened to the muzak and made love in the dashboard light
before driving to the old downtown diner the only thing left at that late hour.
In spite of it all, the whole established course of things we were young, free, alive.
There must be some reason otherwise why were we here
sprouting hair from every follicle and bell bottoming out
on the realization that reasons weren’t necessarily meanings
and nobody ever really knows what they are doing anyway
and they keep on doing it just the same driving between jobs
mortaring it all together with more asphalt and concrete
plastering it all down with more oil and grease
replacing the old industrial sludge
with new improved chemical grunge
spraying from planes, farting from mega machines
blasting out from smoke stacks and furnaces
issuing from sewage ducts, irrigation run-offs and tail pipes
reaching out to encircle the globe
with a miasma of creeping crud, a smoking blight, a misery malady
ecological simplification as corollary for ethnic cleansing, gene-o-cide
a huge hairy paw wriggling contaminated fingers
deep, deep into the squirming earth
turning into chemical sumps
coating the bottoms of bays
making the forests cringe and wither.
The Amazon becomes a giant pulp mill
with huge ravines ripped out
for fossil fuels and precious metals,
moonscapes created to go to the moon
to find out what we’d left behind looks like.
And so here we are looking around like Giraffes in a meat locker.
If we don’t have two jobs we’re not really making it and
if we’re making it we’re not doing anything but working.
Our children live someplace between phone calls and jobs.
The more we have the more it costs.
The more it costs the more we spend.
We sweat our familial blood. We bleed the hearts of our love.
It’s never the way it’s supposed to be. It’s always like it was.
Somewhere there’s the hand of fate slowly turning the dial of time
increasing the pressure weighing down our souls, buying and selling,
the moments of our lives, a great commercial power, massive mercantile nation
a gigantic enterprise, wrestling with Mother Nature herself
ready to hogtie entropy his self
taking on biorhythms, ecosystems, natural instinct, wild kingdoms
taking off into the twilight zone whatever, which, how why whose
doesn’t fall within the parameters of science and fundamentalism,
doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements, can’t seem to assemble the admission criteria
can’t pass the entrance examination, waiting betting slips in hand
for the dream to coalesce into reality
for consumption to become happiness
for fantasy to become orgasm
for Disneyland to become Republic
for Eden to take over the world.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Today marks his one year anniversary as a poet columnist for Oddball Magazine.