By Don Bogen
(posted Wednesday, May 6, 1998)
To hear the poet read "Meditation on a Line From Whitman," click
They are so lonely, our dying cities,
specks on the vast familiar map that looks like a side of beef,
in boldface or marked with a circled dot,
ringed by their beltways, linked into nameless constellations by the
Some are red giants, spreading and cooling in the smoggy dusk,
others dwarfs with dense shrunken cores
or black holes so involuted they swallow the light around them.
On my way out of town, I drive through a fold in time,
a tunnel through the history of shopping:
boarded-up storefronts on the narrow commercial streets,
the old strips and plazas with a muffler shop or a chicken fryer left,
and larger sites--a five-and-dime blown out into a warehouse,
fast-food shops, all local chains now,
with their scratchy speakers and pot-holed drive-thru lanes;
then the first real malls, big as aircraft carriers, low and blocky,
their outlying coffee shops and two-screen theaters like escorts;
at last a quieting stretch, the freeway growing walls
and the walled tracts all around nestled in their names--
The Willows, Hunt Club Crossing, Hidden Acres--
their malls planted, soft-colored, smoothly designed,
broad single lumps surrounded by asphalt prairie,
distant and unobtrusive as buttes.
What is an executive home? Who lives there?
I imagine the orbiting managers, shifted every five years
to another desirable location beyond the beltway,
another stand of young pines and curving roads, another commute,
another city as a set of season tickets to the football games
or a pass even to skyboxes if they should rise so high.
Some will. At home, in their brief stops,
they glide effortlessly up the ladder of good schools,
ladder of yard space, of techno-buttons
in the family room, vehicles lined on the drive,
the whole ensemble an island drifting further and further from the rotted
Bland wealth of the suburbs,
it's futile to keep despising it, I know,
unfair to friends who have to live there--or else in slums--
but sometimes its cultivated innocence feels like an assault.
I don't want to join the country club because there are no parks.
I don't want to leave my car in an underground garage,
rise to the office, sink at the end of day,
drive home unable to stop or roll down the windows
till I see the familiar guard in his gatepost waiting at the start of our
This sealed-off life--
even the ease of it disturbs me.
Secure, imperturbable, it floats in a daydream of possibilities--
a trip to the water park, things to buy at the hardware depot,
quality time, preparation for success,
Have you outstript the rest? Are you the President?--
a huge ball of dust drifting and whirling
as the light from burnt-out stars races over it.