republic

By D. A. Powell b. 1963
soon, industry and agriculture converged
                        and the combustion engine
sowed the dirtclod truck farms green   
                                  with onion tops and chicory

mowed the hay, fed the swine and mutton   
                      through belts and chutes

cleared the blue oak and the chaparral
                                    chipping the wood for mulch

back-filled the marshes
                        replacing buckbean with dent corn   

removed the unsavory foliage of quag
                                 made the land into a production
made it produce, pistoned and oiled
                              and forged against its own nature


and—with enterprise—built silos
                            stockyards, warehouses, processing plants
abattoirs, walk-in refrigerators, canneries, mills
                                                                & centers of distribution   

it meant something—in spite of machinery—
                      to say the country, to say apple season
though what it meant was a kind of nose-thumbing   
                                           and a kind of sweetness
                      as when one says how quaint
knowing that a refined listener understands the doubleness


and the leveling of the land, enduing it in sameness, cured malaria
as the standing water in low glades disappeared,
                                                       as the muskegs drained                              
typhoid and yellow fever decreased
                                  even milksickness abated
thanks to the rise of the feeding pen
                         cattle no longer grazing on white snakeroot

vanquished:    the germs that bedeviled the rural areas
                                                       the rural areas also
vanquished:    made monochromatic and mechanized, made suburban


now,   
the illnesses we contract are chronic illnesses:    dyspepsia, arthritis
            heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, asthma
                           chronic pain, allergies, anxiety, emphysema
                                       diabetes, cirrhosis, lyme disease, aids
            chronic fatigue syndrome, malnutrition, morbid obesity   
hypertension, cancers of the various kinds:    bladder bone eye lymph   
                     mouth ovary thyroid liver colon bileduct lung   
                               breast throat & sundry areas of the brain   


we are no better in accounting for death, and no worse:       we still die
we carry our uninhabited mortal frames back to the land
                      cover them in sod, we take the land to the brink   
          of our dying:    it stands watch, dutifully, artfully
enriched with sewer sludge and urea
                                             to green against eternity of green


hocus-pocus:    here is a pig in a farrowing crate
                                     eating its own feces   
human in its ability to litter inside a cage
                        to nest, to grow gravid and to throw its young

I know I should be mindful of dangerous analogy:
          the pig is only the pig
                         and we aren't merely the wide-open field
                                    flattened to a space resembling nothing



you want me to tell you the marvels of invention?    that we persevere
that the time of flourishing is at hand?    I should like to think it

meanwhile, where have I put the notebook on which I was scribbling

it began like:
                     "the smell of droppings and that narrow country road . . ."

Source: Poetry (June 2008).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2008
 D. A. Powell

Biography

Born in Albany, Georgia, D.A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, and Cocktails was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. His next two books were . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.