From its winter in the ice-bear’s grip
Each spring, the East Coast wakes up.
The great Atlantic warms. Off Iceland
The plash of a narwhal’s unicorn horn
In the spring sun sparks up a mist,
A spreading pancake of hot gray air
From the Delaware to the Colorado,
Fermenting everything soft it touches
And you. The bugs, too, begin to breed.
The Audi will return its own thesis
In late-American entomology.
The insect, who just hates to dry out,
Thrives on the icing of the vapor-cake.
The insect is the real king of the East.
Once foolishly in Georgia we stop
To pee by the side of the highway; ticks
Vault up our legs like hopping rain.
On the highways in our year of plague
The state function of removing the larger
Roadkill has softened, and every shoulder
Is strewn with deer in every step of death,
From barely-sleeping to leather scraps:
A passage supervised by the local vulture,
Whose wide circle is “mastery of space;”
Which rags of game blend in the end
With endless strips of tire, as stripped
From some vulcanized dragon who does
Not shed his skin but bursts it… These roads
Are arteries through this temperate jungle.
They are flat and everything on them is flat.
Around them everything is green and buggy
Where unfouled by man’s unflagging capital.
Even the roadcuts reveal an old gray rock,
Tired as rotten cheese, ocean-crushed,
Ready to return to the sun and the galaxy.
The sense of universal decline is everywhere.
These hot lands seems settled in their dotage.
No traveler from time or space would think
A living people had lived here once;
A people that cared about itself, that
Could even defend itself, sacrifice for
Itself—and that cared not to look upon
Anything sordid, squalid, evil or ugly.
And now? Anything on the highway is
A 3D-printed plastic copy of itself.
Anything off the highway? Dear God—
Once we drive five miles off the highway
To Russell, Kansas, home of Bob Dole,
Meaning to eat lunch. Russell was built
By a living people; they laid their streets
In numbered brick; then zombies ate them.
At noon on a weekday there is no one
On the street. There are no restaurants—
In this plain of madness the road calls.
I wonder what Senator Dole sees now…
What pride these people once had! On
The fourth we drove a two-lane road
In Iowa, and every corny little town
Shot lonely distant sparks at the sky:
Toasting the birth of a dead regime
Whose bloated scion now despises
All Iowas, and every corny little town.
Like the last civilization in these parts
We will leave no more than mounds.
What would anyone make from these malls?
Even the old towns are easier to restore,
Cosmetic though such counterfeits be.
If we match photos of past and present
In one place, and our eyes decide that
Next to the past, the present is but ruin,
What number could argue otherwise?
That the ruined, the squalid, the desolate
Might exceed any living human thing?
In the West everything dead is frozen.
The dry air is poisoning to rot itself.
A ghost town can last generations
As condos nearly ready to rent out.
In the East every plant has water rights.
Only stones can last. Every other kind
Of ruin is just another shape of dirt,
And anything unmaintained a ruin.
Death is always visible in the East;
And in the East we see plenty of it.
Perhaps the settlement of America,
Transatlantic and trans-Beringian
Invasions of Old World primates,
Itself is beginning to fail. The tired
Craton, the “great death-continent,”
Can shrug off these bipeds, like gulls
Off a dozy whale that starts and dives.
A great plate sleeps ten thousand years.
It even warms. Crocodile and hippo
Romp in Huron and Superior. Then, a coat
Of ice! All the roads and malls are scraped
From the subsoil. Full Snowball Earth:
Florida herself is ground to glacier-dust.
In Ice Station Zebra, shooting a reality
Show, a small breeding group survives—
Neither planet nor continent wants this.
Either may prefer it to the alternative.
The East Coast, more and more inimical
To man, mocks the children of the men
Who thought they had tamed and settled it.
They had; but while any fool or sybarite
May “live like God in France,” in the East
To have a land is to have to hold it. When
The men who have a land are not strong
Enough to hold it, God takes it from them.
Not just to give to other men; God’s hand
Hefts any axe—bugs, plants, even a virus.
The West is the America of death; to live
In deserts is to live as Pluto, lord of death;
The East is the test of America, which proved
Itself by inhabiting this frozen steamy place,
And disproves itself by leaving that place
Uninhabitable by anything at all like itself.