Monday, September 29, 2008

James Magorian: New Harmony, Indiana

We must design the destruction of ignorance and misery,
and establish the reign of reason, intelligence and happiness.

–Robert Owen, 1817

The bricks pale in a private weather,
hewn timbers kick in their sleep, mutter
about Owenites, the utopians who tiptoed
out of paradise with frayed theories,
left the ideal rooms vacant, the grass knotted.
In the city in the wilderness
they learned there is no clean start,
no simple day without the print of pride,
secrets, stones weighing the sun's light,
bet-hedgers uncooping black doves.
When the text of the sublime
is opened to the exact middle, pages peeled
evenly outward, the wind loses its way
in the routine intricacies
of the absolute cornfield, the unsure
surfaces rinsed silver,
the whammy put on desire,
the vision assayed by reckless endurance.
In practice the smaller portions appear.
Moderation, sharing, the sparse trophies
of communal experiment are old luck lost
in gain, corners meting out damask.
In a country that ignores its history,
bolts a door behind the present,
preferring the seductive touch of myth,
there is no fame for the faultless average,
diligent poverty, evangels of duty,
the double-clutch of the spirit.
Yet, some, escapees, from the Disneyland gulag,
share the quiet roads with farmers,
stop at this village to repeat questions,
deliver the gift of conscience,
nests of shade settling on children's shoulders.
Snails spin on the green axle of gardens.
The day cools, glides to a close,
Aligns illegible stars.
Possums cross the dead orchard where darkness
is a relic moved from place to place,
handed down, like suffering,
to the smaller integrities, plumed grass,
scaly stones, the blue throats of bushes.
The possums enter the cornfield to splurge.
The millennium means nothing to them.

This poem has appeared in ns 65-66 of the Minnesota Review.

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