The Deaths of John Bartram
The day before the war began
is remembered in context of the war. The chores,
and breaking down the one printing press
to carry it away, resources
distributed, and livestock
herded away from invasion.
The day before the riot began is remembered
in context of riots. Always, authorities say
rioters are from elsewhere, like parents
who deny actions of a child
that reflect poorly on them, blindness
or refusal to see sets the stage.
That the place would be torn up, a life’s work
in ruins is feared. I can’t see the garden,
can’t see the river thru the foliage.
I can’t see the gray stone house
or billowing black smoke in the distance.
A noncombatant commercial botanist
lay dead on the path.
The past is hard to see
for the stinging smoke of its blazes.
I can’t see the past
and the paths are easily overgrown.
The smoke of a century-old riot
is detected still in race relations.
No statue for this one, not even
for vines to climb, but a kind
of unpacked stature
in crated seed boxes to
send forth living specimens
and a thousand seedlings
from which citations
of the past are perennial.
Farragut in Bryant Park
The moment becomes funereal,
moving eerily about.
Then things get real. Surfaces
explode in splinters,
about to become surreal,
moving about “as in a dream.”
As the 12 year old kid remembered,
mid-ship, active duty midshipman,
bombarded off Valparaiso
he wrote of it in old age.
He recalled associates later
who chortled at his recollections
of battle: death, ruin, privations
of war among civilians.
He strode out the back room of the grocer
while the cracker barrel crowd
tittered and called him a croaker.
He fled the southern city
and compulsory service
for the Confederacy
not unlike the captain
some generations on
his way out of the Anschluss
up and over the Alps.
The Dotted Line
The agent who brokered America’s most expensive art sale
is the dad of one the guys
shielding America’s most shady president
from mundane Congressional oversight.
The objet d’art is a yard-long silver bunny balloon
whose surface mirrors the self-satisfied smiles
of hedge fund billionaires.
That the balloon is not a plucked chicken speaks
to the basic dishonesty of millionaire artists;
mirrors their dull wit and predictability, interested
only in self-enrichment and aggrandizing. For all
American cities need prominent statues of chickens,
featherless, adorned with sugar and corn,
as homage to the American food chain, and
commemoration to the half-baked measures
taken by the administration in combatting the pandemic
by keeping nuggets in every pot.
The position of the crackpot in America
is long and undistinguished.
In the early 21st century
one was made president
and the nation hummed along miserably
(but kind of semi-stable)
as long as corporate profits were steady.
When meat workers die between shifts at the factory
an evaluation of profits is called for. And when
health care workers die in great numbers
an evaluation of profits is called for.
The document slid from the White House desk
like spoiled meat, keeping the
meat plants open no matter what.
On the plinth of every plucked chicken
monument place the names of
executives and lobbyists as honor
to the unnamed dead workers
discarded like blood-soaked foam trays.
Where Bartram found seashells miles from shore
(1752) or in mountains
the fossils will be under the waves again before long.
Everyone then got around by creek
sandy patches of embankment
littered with potholes
where hands dug out potatoes.
The first Philadelphians dragged their oak-paneled dressers
up the river bank, coming out from caves.
They looked aghast upon the labor required
to amass fortunes, and thrive in the woods
to be rechristened Center City. Some
among them pooled their gold
to make more gold, and dispatched
a ship to Africa.
What comes out of books like fossils,
sometimes curious, sometimes
paperweights for mind:
Look at the books I’ve gotten tangled up with
Look at all the books.
Eagerly drawn in, looking for places to grab on,
finding reasons to stay.
The books will be under the waves before long.
I adhere to an evolving line,
path-like. It twists
around a complementary path
the way bittersweet grows
(I just realized
I have likened my vocation
to a plant called ‘bittersweet.’)
The research, and my gut,
said do more. Thrive
as your own upright self.
What that says about your brain
benefits the mind. (I rip
bittersweet out of my own garden.
What does that evoke
for poetic image?)
There’s a whole physiology to
a healthy mind, hey?
and the math of breathing.
Mind wandering is an art, focused
now, now meandering, now
policed by present moment.
How the voice is a guise under which I write.
If I duck out of critical mind
what then? Not worry
or even think of
news or weather?
Open swim for the mind. Lucretius
and Bakunin, lifeguard certified.
I slid down the seaboard,
and made a bench of the continental shelf,
settled into the benthic zone
and hung a poster of Plato on the cliff wall,
an ironic cave. I defaced his image
with handlebar moustache
and missing teeth.