Moving on from “After the Lecture at Yale”

After the Lecture at Yale

Whether or not there are bobcats
in Southbury is up for debate.
But I will concede as we turn onto Old Farm Road
that here there are MAGA partisans
and that demagogues can woo quiet neighbors
even in the State of Steady Habits.

Because lawn signs don’t lie.
Neither do lengths of charming stone walls
laid in the time of charters and King George.
According to the Nobel laureate, first there was rock,
then protoplasm, then an ingenious race of hominids
milling wheat and clicking away on abaci
in a time-lapse compendium
paused just past ENIAC and ballpoint pens.
He said that slime-slicked granite deep in the Precambrian
was the first cooperative community.

But that was last night in Sterling Library,
and now I’m sketching plans at the table
between rulers and a stack of The New Yorker
as you brew chai tea, prime the nail gun,
unfurl stenciled blueprints of our barn-cum-studio
in the making. With renovations, we can sell our land
for a premium our Brooklyn friends tell us.

But it’s charming here, and the afternoon
is a pleasant exasperation of tape measures
and twine as October wind works its way
through chinks and cools our sweat.
We can paint our canvasses here 
and impress our Chicago friends
with our view of the Taconic Mountains.
Yet still my eyes linger on the “Make America Great Again” signs
down the road.

“It’s class solipsism,” our sociologist friend
tells me, and reminds me
that not everyone reads The New Yorker
or has a chance to go to graduate school.
And true, I haven’t gotten around to reading
J.D. Vance, so I still wonder.

We call it a day as the sun lowers over the valley,
and we’re strolling along the stone wall.
I’m thinking about the slime-covered rocks,
of the wriggling amoebas, the blooming lichen,
the goatherds speaking Sumerian on the banks
of the Tigris. And soon enough there are charters 
directing our ancestors to form towns and harvest
sassafras for shipment back to England.
There’s the brief blip of ENIAC, but not before Nagasaki,
and followed by Darfur and Srebrenica
along with Timothy McVeigh and the 16th Street Baptist Church.   	
And it all started with the protoplasm.

We don’t think of crossing those granite rocks,
approaching our neighbors, and getting a sense
of why exactly they’re casting their lot with
“the greatest existential threat to liberal democracy”
(according to our professor friend in Seattle).
You’re making quinoa paella for dinner,
and besides, I want to finish sketching.

I wrote this poem on the eve of the 2016 US presidential election. I think it’s still relevant to today’s news landscape. It also still captures how I feel about collective responsibility and the consequences of community atomization.

The catalog of explosive historical events in the sixth stanza might be clichéd and a bit overwrought, but that’s why I’m publishing this poem; I’m trying to exorcise my former interest in collapse. In my late teens and early twenties I was a bit of a “kollapsnik” and was fascinated by societal calamity, as epitomized in Thomas Cole’s painting Destruction in his Course of Empire series.

Thomas Cole, Destruction (1836)

What we focus on grows, so it’s no surprise that my fixation on cataclysm led to a period of suicidal depression. I’ve matured a lot since then. But the presence of poems like “After the Lecture at Yale” in my electronic archive kept that fascination smoldering; when drafts of poems like this came to mind, I’d start thinking of whether I should make revisions and spend money to submit them to literary magazines. By posting this poem and others like it, though, the tantalization of publication is eliminated since most literary magazines won’t print works that were previously published on a personal website. Then I can more fully move on to my new commitment to renewal and the Great Turning.

This is the first of several old self-authored poems I will unload here in order to create more mental space for myself (this website is as much for me as it is for you). And since pieces of writing are transmuted when they are read by an audience, perhaps these pieces will stop being mere artifacts of a gloomy stage in my life and become progressive stepping stones towards my later realization that humanity is poised on the precipice of a new era of abundance and unity.

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