I grind from home to work and back
for ten years, slowly twigging onto
underlying significances in
geography. It begins at my old
house near the Quaker Meeting, where they stay
silent until their inner light moves them
to speak; where they seek consensus before
action (which can defer decisions ad
infinitum). They practice what should be
radical democracy, but plays out
so slowly that it becomes oligarchy
shaped by the Philadelphia lawyers
who wear seersucker suits and white shoes
from May all sweaty summer to Labor Day.
Southeast to the interstate and Chester,
a town that built ships during World War II,
noisy, prosperous, and mainly White. Now
the whole town’s what we used to call a ghetto,
where Whites seldom buy property though it’s
cheap and backs up against fancy suburbs.
Where Martin Luther King, Jr. went to
seminary, honed his oratory,
focused anger and learned how to use it.
Then south across the state line to Delaware
and the Mason-Dixon Line, south of which
slaves could once be held. Exit in Delaware,
directly into horse country, and the
über-wealth of DuPont estates and museums.
This kind of American wealth is built
by war. DuPont most literally, maker
of the munitions for all wars after
the revolution. A key safety feature
is that the powder plants are three-sided,
open to the river, so when they blow,
they blow out over the water instead of
igniting the buildings on either side.
Where ammunition was produced for
every war except for the atomic bombs
(since three-sidedness is to no avail
when atoms split). The company I work
for, still making money from war, but whose
slogan is better things for better living.
On to my office in Wilmington, where
centred in the square, a statue of Caesar
Rodney, who took a midnight gallop
to Philadelphia, slaveholder, hypocrite,
to be the signer who technically
passed the Declaration. Then at the end of
day, I’m out of town another way to make
the big loop back home. Out past the estate
gardens and the furniture museum
spun off by the barons to preserve their
so-much-more-than-anyone-else. Past a stop
on the Underground Railroad. Little to see
but a place to hide and maybe be safe
for a night or two on the long road north.
The route winds north through the Wyeth farm,
home to three generations of artists, makers
who perhaps without knowing it made art
for captains of industry, as did the Pre-
Raphaelites, producing pastorals
for office walls, relief from the smoky scapes
of industrial revolution. And on
past the Revolutionary battlefield
of Brandywine Creek, a battle lost to
Washington learning his craft. Then back
across the Mason-Dixon onto Route 1,
the old post road, the national road
between Washington and Philadelphia,
link between cities from the beginning.
The first roads to show how infrastructure
supports growth, creates a base to build on.
The kind of thing Hamilton knew from youth.
Now it’s a lesser version of his vision
with malls, shopping centers, cinema complexes,
looping turnpike interchanges, the lesser
realization of the dream begging
something better to spring from a Zeusian eye.
These traffic jams of lessons or alle-
gories or insights wear into my consciousness
over ten years, wear ruts in my soul that
will never go away, ruts that show ten
years are too many, that force me to agree
it’s time for the vision to be rebuilt.
Norwich yokes Vermont to New Hampshire
halfway up the Connecticut River, where deer
and bobcat sometimes still drink—my birth town.
The Revere bell at the Congregational Church
still rings, as it did when I was baptized into its
Puritan plainness. Same place I eulogized parents
and brother in later years. At four and five,
we’d take the bus from the Norwich Inn to watch
steam engines chug into White River Junction.
Next to the Inn, Dan and Whit’s general store
with one of everything shelved back along the dim
basement aisles hammered like shims into the hill,
and heated by wood from field-stacked cords.
A vestigial fair jams the green each July. Oxen
from farms outside town. Wooden rings you can
toss and win things. The populace is Dartmouth profs,
escapee New Yorkers, Vermonters who service them.
The ghostly colonials have big trees, modern colors
instead of the original white, salmon, or maize.
I plan runs so I can admire as many as possible
and imagine again a WASP-y New England home.
The Christmas pageant anchors winter, the real season.
We mob about town caroling, get turned away at the Inn,
follow Mary’s burro to the stable, then cocoa, chat.
In best memories, snow is falling. I haven’t often
been back. Pretty certain it’s still the same, as long as
a proper successor to the old burro can be found.