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American Pastoral

"O, weeping sons: These stanzas were once yours 
until high into the heaving sins of your fathers 
they were cast like blind artifacts littering with tears 
lost battlefields.." - Paolo Honorificas 

1.
Washing the apples, 
drying them, 
placing them 
one by one 
in a brown clay bowl, 
glittering 
with their green, 
I was making ready 
on a day 
birds sing about.
I opened 
all the windows. 
Left no door closed, 
for I was 
making ready 
as this song 
in me began to burst 
from the inside out. 

2. 
On this Pacific Coast 
had we no voice 
the trees would speak for us. 
The red barked sequoia, 
the stoic spruce, 
quirky villages of unkempt, 
mossy sided alder. 
Cedars towering 
over salmon streams. 
The homely dogwood, 
dull and drab one day, 
miraculously alive, 
blossoming with color the next. 
Look at the trees. 
Just look at the trees. 
Broad shouldered, 
unashamed, upright, 
all out there 
in a direct and simple way. 
Here, we learn early 
to name the trees. 
They are our measure 
of all things great.

3.
When I run, I don't always know 
what I'm running toward 
or away from. In me the sweat 
of ancient blood and salt; 
violence of sinew rubbing 
against sinew, muscle, bone.
Therefore, know 
my loves are wild and tart 
as berries on the juniper tree 
nurtured in the bedrock 
crevices of who I am 
and everywhere I look, 
your all consuming horizon, 
airy as a meadow 
viewed from my mind's peak 
transgresses the lyric 
in its rugged capacity to sustain.
When fragile as a wounded wing
I hurt, or become self-righteously 
smug like a worn proverb, 
or consumed by doubts, 
it is to your Pacific Coast
I come for your flesh in me 
is a constant reminder of who I am. 
I rejoice in your constant making 
and remaking and when my love 
for you explodes into a windy brawl 
surging through public streets 
with angry bitches, 
condemnations, complaints, 
it's merely your unbridled 
enthusiasms having found their place 
in me for in my own prayers 
I would have us both better than we are 
or have any right to be.

4.
Out of your ancient flesh 
whole forests 
and civilizations have grown, 
burned, been cut down 
and brawling cities born
to rise in their place 
layer upon layer 
like an old man's face
we trace the furrowed paths 
we walk along
but the past is never
fully replaced. 
Indian grave yards 
are still watered by Seattle mist. 
Chinese opium dens 
beneath the streets 
of San Francisco. 
Portions of an old water filled 
mill race in the heart of Eugene. 
Abandoned wagon ruts 
and wood plank roads, 
rusting machinery 
buried in the black 
gold oozing dunes 
of Whiskey Run Beach. 
Who knows where begins 
or ends the influence of things?

5.
At Hardscrabble Creek 
water passes over rocks 
whispering of baptismal suffering, 
of endless mysteries. 
I am unremarkable it seems to say. 
Essence of water and blood my destiny. 
My hands get dirty. 
I am bound by insatiable appetites,
by the unfathomable and dark graffiti 
marking with scars my private sanctuaries 
and yet, when I was born 
the world began again knowing neither 
of success or failure but asking 
all the questions that really mattered 
echoing inside of me: I am not alone. 
From hip, bop, punk rock, 
lyrical and concrete. Up from New York, 
Black Mountain and San Francisco streets 
come incantations caught 
in the head lights of my own mind 
calling for an end to hypocrisy. 
Be real, they say. Be honest. 
No voice stifled. No cruelty condoned. 
No injustice unredeemed.

6.
A hill and another hill 
and then the road 
whose borders 
are wreathed in weeds 
but straight and clean 
as an arrow in the center
sleek caravans 
of eighteen wheelers 
speed down
as if they were land locked 
leviathans 
or migrating animals 
without fur 
ferrying the world's goods. 
For them distance 
is merely an empty space 
to be got through 
and each small town 
a name between them 
and their destination 
To know this country is to be 
in movement with it, 
always west, always further, 
over a hill and another hill 
and then the mountains 
to be mastered and got over 
and then the long migration back.

7.
Out of the mouth 
of the new 
the wave comes. 
The wave gives birth 
and is hungry. 
The wave vanishes 
and can't be found. 
Out of the valley 
of destruction 
it surfaces, 
burning with necessity, 
thundering into a deluge 
screaming 
the old gods are dead. 
Make way for the new!

8.
Here, in the landfills 
we call history, 
are the burnt residue 
of all our mistakes; 
frayed ropes, nooses, 
melted barrels 
of rusting guns, 
radioactive waste, 
hidden orders consigning 
this man, that woman, 
whole communities 
to gulags 
and concentration camps. 
Look at the grass 
where they walked, 
each green blade 
watered by someone's tears 
who were forced to march 
where no one 
should be made to go. 
Here, in these ashes 
of the past 
let our darker sides 
find rest for the great tree 
of being 
cares only how high we soar. 
Man, above the possum, 
below the dove and when 
the feather of justice 
falls from its scale 
plunging ten miles 
into the earth and there isn't a heart 
strong enough or brave enough 
or caring enough 
to lighten it's weight 
or raise it up, 
there will be nothing 
left in us to save.

- Scott Malby

 
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