Thomas Bolt  

A fortunate country.

And here a machine is passing
Slowly over the landscape
It consumes for fuel;
Past ice and leaves littered in a ditch
Already sprinkled porphyry, already passed, already
Speckled with the revolution of wheels,
Past scrawled names
Developing from the mist of oily dust
That coats these buttressed walls like an emulsion, on

Through an abandoned forge of countryside,
Past stripped trees
Plundered by weather and
As if from a bombed glassworks showered in ice,
Past sagging houses, metal-shuttered blocks,
Oilsodden fields with sinking drums—late
This train passes into the corridor,
Bringing through a window's uncurtained arch
Enormous leverages of bitter iron.

Through with the past, with the past, the past—passing,
We consume this present as our scheduled train
Takes space for granted—hurtling narrowly
Between high walls on which
Graffiti declare their useless independence.
From what transactions?
What price and minerals? What dull entropy?
In the wind of our speed
A bitten Styrofoam cup

Sails up from the train, high
On a wild trajectory
Blown and buffeted:
Whirls up and up, and
Spiraling down, is caught
To crown a budless tree gripping the edge
We thunder on—a trestle abutment
Of yellowing, coarse cement.
The dark roots dangle into iron and air.

Gone. And we pass between glitter and grit
From old industry to momentary parks
Of parkinglots and pebbled stuccoes, each
Car's private sky glancing autonomy—
Excoriated coruscations spent
On sudden headquarters of corporate black glass
From which someone
Is probably looking out (we can't see in),
Until, with a mirror's tilt,

Money vanishes again from the landscape.
Forced. The cornucopia forced
And crushed to power like a hammered atom:
Indiscriminate. Thing joined to plan, forced
Under diamondsmearing, fusing, unrelenting pressure
Thus: fouled, fallen, fortified— Alas!
Digested plenty: even the snow falls brown
From smoked skies, each flake
Seizing its strange nucleus of grit.

The known world.

Wild, anymore? Our landscapes turn
In calcium and carbon underneath
The blue curve of an abstracted sky...
A little bulb-pot, pale blue solid jasper,
With movable fitments for growing
Living flowers in water (circa 1785);
Its stylized soil, fashioned from sifted clay
Embossed with florets and acanthus leaves,
Holds rigidly stylized budleaves, which hold bulbs.

Wedgwood (Darwin's grandfather) produced
By machine and hand in various designs
(Beehives, "ruin'd columns"), beautiful
Decorative pots for bulbs and grasses.
Or the Human Figure strolled by riverside
Past skeletal willows, basket under arm,
Profile to picnic in a vale of plenty,
In bone-white patterns modeled on
"Pompeii and Greek vases from the graves."

Nothing so civilized as ornament:
An engine-turned diminishing quatrefoil,
Etruscan green and black, Strawberry leaf
On shapely creamware; who from a cooling kiln
Lifted a simple pitcher, gleaming glaze,
White body fortified with powdered ox-bones,
To think of this return? What calcium,
What bone-grinding joy of apparatus,
What knowledge of forced forms brought us here

With steady certainty, moving along
A long assembly line from patterned plate
To a billion-transistor microchip,
Rejecting other wisdom, following
Inextricable theory and machine?
How did what followed darken with carbon-fall
That late Enlightenment? Are we the first
To sack our own cities and withdraw,
Heavily armed, plunder-drunk, to suburbs?

Or only the last?

Leaves cluster in a mess of iron and lead.
We pass another new industrial park,
Its smoked-glass windows giving nothing back
(Though here and there, in patches and odd starts,
A little unused land lives on:
What blueprints overlooked
Stays scrub or sodden by default, and runs
Along guardrails, between chainlink and drum,
In sunken rough, forgotten, left alone).

To leave alone. Does history? we Greeks
In the wrecked Agora, behind barricades,
Hear heavy hammer-blows (stone shrinks from shock; smokes)
Recoil from marble (delicately worked; fractured to chunked rock):
A mortar grinds in the yard. Heads thud.
Bracing against attack, we fortify
At random, overnight; build speedily
Of anything to hand. We ourselves
Topple our goddesses; their blunted heads

Are tossed by hundreds into the working lime-kiln
That we might fortify
With barbaric, fresh cement.
Defense takes shape
From capitals upended, hoisted steps
And fluted column-drums turned sideways, set
Between chipped frieze-blocks and paving tiles;
And devastation came;
And history stopped.

Devastation came:

Dark of smoking plunder,
Hill of iron
Wet with bloodied glass;
A heavy scaffolding of certainties
Lies where it fell, splayed out
On ironburdened ground, to sink among
Theories abandoned by their machines,
Tossed like scraps
By unenlightened wind—caught up—dropped—

New York; Trenton; Philadelphia.
Something is coming to destroy you.
What will be built? What built?
—For the machine moves on, as it's designed to do,
Processing what it finds in its wide path
With enormous, violent pressure into bales
It can understand:
Planet stripped to resource,
Bundled into compact packages.

The MK slash B dash 61, for instance,
Our most versatile gravity bomb,
Tactical and strategic: its tapered shell
A bit over a foot in diameter;
11 feet long, 700 pounds,
Constructed from 4,000 separate parts
By 570 suppliers
And nine primary contractors.
Notice its unsparing silhouette.

There is nothing at all here for decoration.
No ornament. No sentimental woe.
No joy, no lust; no sense of disinclusion;
Even traditional ironies of graffiti
Are absent; we are professionals.
As a budget item, the program yields
Efficient cost per alert megaton: therefore,
Jefferson's dumbwaiter, lined with steel,
Will hoist the bomb.

A Wedgwood tea service—

More country passes. Iron,
Old undecorated iron...
Yet, frozen to a jar,
Dolphins might dive and frolic, blue from white,
Through bonedry surf where scalloped waves
Loomed crisp as armor, riveted still in froth
To a stylized harbor; sharp skyscrapers tilt,
And our long train (detailed with pure scrawls)
Enter a blue tunnel endlessly;

Or, farther along the curve,
The concrete hourglasses
Of reactor cooling towers sit like eggcups
As, from a nearby base, a whitewinged jet
With its centerline-pylon-mounted bomb
Lifts into forever enemy sky—
Over our cities. Their emblematic ruin,
Bone-concrete, stretches under wild,
Vacant blues of heraldic space.

Won at all cost?

Not yet; almost; and soon
Chip; chink; chip; and crackle down
The borrowed supports, the chunks
Of stately decoration; caryatid,
Curling scrollwork, fitted terra cotta
Drainpipe tiles: crack; and the fluted trunks
Are scarred and pitted: chop, crumble, shift;
High pediments tilt. An acid rain
Dissolves Athena's head like aspirin.

How many etched gears can whirl on a pinhead?
Not love, not love, production is not love,
Despite the rhythmic evidence of the train—
Yet the bulb-pot, with all its borrowed past,
Sits intact, clean, and whole in history.
In such an innocent vessel, on a lit sill,
Some life a little watered
Would stir in its paper: from the hard bulb-heart,
Green thrust in air, flowers unfold—except,

As the jar turns, the frigid scenes change:
Repeated empires grow and overgrow
Over and over an overpatterned ground
Where the machine continues, bundling more steel
Against our futures (undecided),
Following (laissez-faire)
Its own brutal terms (toward total scope).
We all assume
What the machine assumes.

Quill, quill, pipes and garland,
Mythy leaves must be kissed,
Worn in the hair,
Repeated in flawless white in flowered stone,
Or left in their praise-rained grove; rationalized,
Forced, broken down to parts,
Abstracted to skin and sugar, spent like cash,
Made momentary trophies of our will—
We ransack an unreplenished wood.

When William Blake the artisan engraved
Josiah Wedgwood's catalog, did he
Prophesy only, drawing graceful curves,
That high standard of production raised
Onto a thousand mantels? Clouds unfold
Over cold waste: after those first, best,
Most mild and harmless artifacts
Of industry, that fine, domestic sense
Explodes out of scale, prefiguring

Our secret inventories (which include
Oiltight keypad, sealed, slash military use;
Proximity sensor, frictionresistant, slash explosionproof...):
If old myth defused a wild world,
Our most rational assembly,
If launched (—around a curve of finite blue,
Toward heat-enlightenment—),
Merely obliterates: flash-forced through steel
To fuse all choice to black glass: silence.

When in the course of human events

This stately vessel
Sat for a time on Marx's windowsill,
Paper whites over its armor of decoration,
Soot drifted down between rains
From a revolution of things:
Late in the year, now, in nude November,
Frost whitens its innercurving hollow,
Dried flowers rattle and scrape the casement
With their memorial product. Never or now.

Bright-eyed Athena!
For the sake of our love of city and of Earth,
This fortunate planet,
This sphere of ice and brilliant citron,
Too-struggled-for, fouled cornucopia,
Help us unbuild; dismantle us; teach balance,
Proportion; out of fallen knowledge, raise
A fresh Declaration, of interdependence; give
Hope to help these unreplenished lands

Of which what ornament, what knob of love,
Survives uncracked? These interlocking cars,
Slowing a little in their rigid circuit,
Make a stately frieze of the raw world:
What's left of an old enlightenment,
Stripped down to dirty stage machinery,
Without swans, shields, furls, or acanthus leaves,
Has reeled back its curtain on this place
Where the century is ending

Beyond our train window, steadily,
As the machine and its crew
Passes the northeastern United States.
It has left behind,
Near the edge of a shed's shadow,
Enormously compact and promising,
The gleaming, rough blocks
Of gathered steel
It has compressed from scrap.


"Wedgwood" first appeared in Southwest Review.

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"Wedgwood" copyright (c) by Thomas Bolt. All rights reserved.