from Atlas

Glenn Bach

The book in our hands is a great gift,

the songs of our undoing.

No rules exist that constitute

what we know beyond our reach.

Who can wish an animal from the dark,

nets removed from these trees,

so many forms an ending can take.

*

The voice of the people

from river to river,

from the bent blade of the creek

to the shade trees lining the blocks

of Union Place, neither wild

nor tamed as no one took notice

of those minutes now lost in time,

newspapers that no longer exist.

20,000 bodies buried here,

a potter’s field and congregations

laid to rest under the construction

of fine houses, the edge of town

pushed further north.

The city sings its anthem

to a meandering line of horizon,

the great place of North America

in a river of oysters fresh from

the shallows of the harbor.

If we could articulate

the identity of this tributary,

will the world then outlast us?

How far the distances

we keep in the viral

pathways before us?

Who will update the maps

when the waters fill

the low lying lands?

*

In concrete, in gold

taller than the north

about pasts we never knew,

within the dream of this destruction,

imagining the city’s end

the locus

of depictions of conquest

and order

that did not blow

over

a thorough index

of the terminus.

As a fluid text

with our glory and with

our downfall

with the loss

and the creation there

of something new

the city will be a great place

if they ever finish it

some part

is always being undone.

*

That rare thing a history,

that everything we know

is wrong.

To meet the demands

of our growing,

the secrets of the earth

thawing to the surface

to burn.

There is no event

so sparse

this part is not so pleasant

from one day or hour

this place changes so much,

this page

intentionally left blank.

*

Named for the place

where they began,

the hill fires will all

have burned to the ocean,

the soil of those places

also washed down

to the sea.

If a tree falls,

then, yes, it sounded

and was heard in dialects

closed to us.

You would have thought

that one square inch

would have been enough.

You can’t get away from it. The taxis and the jackhammers. At all hours.

What about the farm? That should be quiet at least.

But the ranch hands will be up at dawn milking the cows and mending the fence.

What about Antarctica?

Yeah, but it will be the penguins peck, peck, pecking for food.

You’re right. The glaciers receding.

It’s the same thing every morning: grind, grind, grind. Those fucking ice caps melting: trickle, trickle, trickle.

Everything makes a sound

in the moment of its destruction.

The hills we see are always

between this flame

and the next.

Hell on earth, no,

just earth,

not earth.

Glenn Bach is a poet, sound artist, and educator who lives and works in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. His major project, Atlas, is a long poem that documents his reflections on place, landscape, and our understanding of the world. It has been excerpted in small journals such as Dusie, jubilat, and Otoliths.

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