Tuesday, November 30, 2010
In the Midwest
He saw the iron wings of daybreak struggling
to rise over the warehouses stacked along the river.
Rotting wharves and bulkheads. Dead tracks
leading to railroad yards on the edge of nowhere,
the sun toiling in gray smoke on the horizon.
As if God had crumbled bits of charcoal
in the air and dusted the earth with ashes—
Eyelids of silt, thou shalt not open!
Scourge of asphalt and carbon, of slag heaps
and oil-stained piers, of soot and smog . . .
He was not a prophet of revision and announcement,
not the biblical kind, like Habakkuk or Amos,
and yet he wandered through the heartland alone
and saw the shattered spine of a bridge
collapsing in Gary; he saw the ruined breath
and gaping windows of a factory choking
in Youngstown; he saw the stench of history
seeping out of Sandusky and Calumet City . . .
Stops on the highway, stains on a dark map.
Foundries, industrial waste. Stripped quarries,
stripped land, what we’ve done to the sky
curdling over two drunks sleeping on an embankment
and waking up to a late day in the empire.
He kept speaking of Byzantium, of Constantinople.
He saw gulls feasting on garbage.
He saw the gouged bodies of the unborn.
Edward Hirsch, “In the Midwest” from Earthly Measures. Copyright © 1994 by Edward Hirsch. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.