Superior Oak Ridge Landfill
Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s grand cathedral
in Barcelona, remains unfinished,
counting its way up to eighteen spires:
twelve apostles, four evangelists,
virgin mother, and Jesus. And people
in that city have grown up watching it
grow up for generations—the architect
dead and buried inside—the world
turned digital, cellular, the latest phone
snapping a picture of a spire, another
amateur who imagines he’s got a grasp
on things, that he’s worldly, that the world
is somehow fixed because he’s captured
an image of it. Steve Jobs died a few years
back and will soon be obsolete, too.
His best inventions are now radioactively
leaking into the sea, incinerated into smoke,
or buried in the Superior Oak Ridge Landfill,
which I’m passing on the highway now—
landfill I watched grow up from humble
beginnings, smelled it hanging low
for thirty years in the valley, every
summer, every time I neared
the Meramec river. And when the county
council finally ordered the landfill to stop
accepting trash, said that it was
to be capped with clay and vegetation
and monitored for methane levels and leakage,
I felt a sense of pride for having watched it
grow up to the height of its brothers,
for having contributed my small part to it,
for knowing that one hundred years from now
this hill won’t be bald, and this valley
will take back its slopes, and the river
will go on drifting its dumb course like a mule
that never grows old or tired or stubborn.
To build a building is one thing, I think,
but to build a feature of landscape
from garbage is another, and Jobs, Gaudi, Christ
have simply become names without owners.
What if I told you that when I was a kid
I followed the train tracks that brushed past
the base of the landfill, hiked up to the rim
looked over and saw an open pit alive
with the beating of a thousand wings,
the largest murder of crows I’ve ever witnessed
rifling in a field of trash that smelled
like nothing of this world. Imagine now,
like I did then, that any moment
the land could’ve risen into a conspiracy
of feathers. We think what we see is only
the half of it, that the capped landfill won’t
outlive Gaudi’s cathedral, although it will,
that the tallest spire isn’t Jesus after all,
just our own ambition in lockstep
with a body we can’t imagine is disappearing,
although it is, and so we build things up
higher than the one who came before
and we marvel at the advances until
the din of our creation sounds
like an electric insect rubbing its legs together,
and soon our summer nights are filled
with the hum of its mating call.
~Originally published in Southeast Review (from Racecar Jesus)
The Colony at Malibu
Glassy eyed on Scotch, my brother and I watched
the electric faces of waves, and I said that nobody
really gets drunk in poems anymore and gets away
with it. Not like William Matthews did. But we
are drunk, he said, and getting away with it
at this borrowed château in the colony.
We all harbor a private sadness, I said.
Melancholia, he said. Melancholia, I said.
Melancholia, confirmed the moon in Morse code,
and the ocean must’ve known what it felt like—each
wave another failed attempt at becoming. People here,
I said, must take great pride in the celebrated virgins
of Pepperdine who graze in the pasture
of finance and architecture for all of the practical
reasons. Was that Keats? he asked as he poured
a few neat fingers of Glenmorangie Artein.
Keats had the heart of a sparrow, I said, always
fawning over the things he would never have.
Like this beach, he said. Like these waves, I said.
~Originally published in The Southern Review (from Narcissus Americana)
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Think ocean spill-off creeping
over the Outer Banks into these brackish
channels, which course alongside gravel
roads—bramble-thick new growth
forest on one side, Monsanto corn
tended in pristine rows on the other.
A black bear rises to his hind legs on a hill
and looks at Regina and I as we get out
of the car. He’s young and diuretically
passing indigestible kernels, and she pokes
his poorly formed scat pile with a stick
just as the bear turns tail for the woods.
A storm purpling the distance dips
a waterspout into the sea for a drink,
and I say that we’ll never see a red wolf
here, rust-colored as they are against
these impossible woods. Bordering the edge
of this refuge sits a Navy bombing range
wherein ordnance gets routinely detonated;
but today, all is quiet save our boots
scuffling gravel. No doubt the sea level
is rising everywhere these days and even
the modest models show this refuge
going under—as we walk, I imagine the corn
waving like kelp below the surface,
fish pecking the yellow leftover bits,
trees holding their skirts above the knees
and waiting for the water to recede.
And when it doesn’t? What fossils
the land will have secured for future
generations: black gum roots loosed
from soil; the slow bones of mammals
with nowhere else to go; and the bombs,
o you bombs—the Navy won’t make it to all
of you before the deluge—you too will just
have to wait for the waters to come.
~Originally published in Ecotone (from Field Study)
It’s good, you think, to feel those old synapses
hustling to get in line for roll call
as your mother-in-law clears the table
and offers another beer. Has anyone
seen Hirohito, Steeplechase, Polio, the Warsaw Pact?
An aging battalion whistled back
from an almost permanent shore leave,
everyone heavy around the midsection;
only half of the state capitals even bothered
to show up and none of the Oscar winners
from 1965 –1985. Then, before you know it,
Alan Shepard is rocketed back onto the moon
driving golf balls into the horizon—
How many of them landed in a bunker?—Australopithecus
holds up two fingers, shrugs, and sinks
back into the fold. You can hear Bessie Smith
warming up with Guns N’ Roses, while Rome
and Carthage are reenacting the Punic Wars.
What’s the world’s largest political party?
What’s a marsupial’s marsupium better known as?
How many of every ten cats will survive a six-story fall?
Nine Chinese communist pouches to be exact,
shouts the Aegean Sea. By now, you’re throwing
bull’s-eyes blindfolded and things are getting interesting.
Tammy Faye Baker’s tattooed eyebrows are learning
to play a five-string banjo while the War of 1812
French-kisses Jupiter, and Margaret Thatcher
poses for the cover of Sports Illustrated. Sure,
you could try and put a stop to it, send everyone
slogging away like melancholic whores, useless,
half-remembered, but you still haven’t decided
which one has the most chromosomes—a turkey, a hermit crab
or a human? And wouldn’t you like to know.
~Originally published in Subtropics (from About the Dead)