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.
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.