In the tall stalks of plenty where prairie meets plains
a city is born. Wild onions, wild fantasies.
Rivers run through it. Strident streams of Great-Lake currents
steady the flow of New-England merchant men:
princes and paupers, land pirates build the inestimable
sprawling of sweeping horizons.
Pelts fall to planks
warriors to mayors
dreams to currencies
forests to sweatshops.
Steam horses spar
with human life.
A river reversed
a pestilence delivered
Necessity being the mother of invention,
steel structures rise, trains loop and dip
and the disassembly of beasts foretells
the Second Coming: lean iron horses feeding
scrap yards. Meanwhile,
the torpid transmigration of souls transpires:
dumped into Bubbly Creek later washed
down the mighty Mississippi, generations later
the river choking on silt.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers. “I’ve seen fire and
I’ve seen rain.”** I’ve seen a lakefront open to parks
and people, wetlands overfed with fill. The vanishing
and the vanquished. Trains, planes, automobiles:
the confluence a gritty grid of asphalt angles and granite
canyons. Boats carrying the hopeful across the
Great Dixie Divide. Mechanical men stacking flaxen
into elevators of wealth. Driven creators the brilliant
architects of modernity.
Flash forward to grim brick smokestack-like Habitats
for Humanity. Distinctive Projects. Progress. Native Sons
also rising. A Metamorphosis: onion fields to fertilizer beds
to killing parks slashed to the quick
with modern-day scythes and sickles;
drug-sick shepherds keeping watch on their flocks to part rival
weave from neighborhood chaff: flushing out futures like grouse
in the grasses, flesh falling from bone; sacrificial lambs, our heads
bowed to the heavens. Our Country ‘Tis of Thee.
The ages echoing one into another,
aging with heartbreak, of thee I sing.
Rapid-fire consumption our
Gross National Product.
Metal scrambles, screams through tissue;
just another Stormy Monday, the papers say. Strange Fruit falling
from the popular to arms. Farewell. Hand to hand combat. Friendly
fire. The gun runner wailing with the gospel choir.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, /But, baby, where are you?”***
A most uncivil war. Urban unrest. City of Big Shoulders, gangly adolescence.
night. Violence begets violence. O say,
can you see, by the dawn’s dimming light.
The rocket’s red glare the bombs bursting in air
gives proof through the night that our hearts are not there.
For the land of the free and the home of deep strife:
unsettled, unhealthy, unbidden. Rife
I speak of rivers
fire and rain.
*Native American term meaning skunk weed, smelly onion
**James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” by ***Dudley Randall, “The Ballad of Birmingham”
A retired English Professor, Nancy L. Davis divides her writing time between Chicago and Long Beach, Indiana, on Lake Michigan. Her poetry, short fiction, reviews and articles have placed in numerous competitions and appeared in such journals as Primavera, The Ledge Magazine of Poetry & Fiction, Route Nine and Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Prior to teaching, Ms. Davis wrote and produced award-winning educational films; she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from The University of Massachusetts in Amherst.