That summer I was reading Henry Adams, the Gulf bled crude
That did not quite wash up in Louisiana bayous.
I tracked his mind forward and back in time. The gist of it
Did not rise. Adams thought the planet would survive
Only until 1925. Corporate robots burned
And cauterized the wound, and still an unheard hiss
Bubbled on my screen. A shaft disseminating what?
The underwater camera clarified nothing
But a constant hemorrhaging. An armada of absences
Couldn’t brush the problem. I couldn’t help but watch.
From my Provincetown studio, I directed my attention also
To a flower by Rousseau. Some reason of the eye
Kept Hopper there, and Homer, and for a while
The sculptor Paul Bowen. In 1862, 24 years old,
Adams thought the engine of Science
Soon beyond Man’s control. The British tested
Armor piercing instruments, “The iron ships all utterly
Antiquated and useless.” Coal heaped so high
He bet the race would soon commit suicide…
Then in 1907 he turned his attention to radium.
But this other Henri had half the Yucatan in mind,
Half the Parisian zoo: his lion kills
A water buffalo, so stylized the painting seems
More the idea of play than prey, and above them,
Right of the bananas, oleander, that all-seeing eye,
Deadly venom inside, the Gulf like a man who would not talk,
Ruined in deep thought. The flower by Rousseau a lovely portal.
All summer I touched the sullen Jeremiah of his thought,
His scowl from across the road on Pennsylvania Avenue,
Staring down each president as if each stole a world
Adams thought he owned. In his theory of degradation,
All things declined down some post-historic slide,
The profligate planet binging on some ooze
From Mesozoic forests, even human thought
“Vastly increased in apparent mass,” “lost intensity
And continued to lose it with accelerated rapidity.”
Black fields massing cold between each molecule
Like whole seas between our toes, everything pissing off
The old sun-stock. That was the fine rest
The future held for us. All things once moving
Barely quivering at -272 degrees C. So figured Adams,
Worse that a fucking Calvinist, brilliant despite
The seismic, anti-Semitic fault-line running through his life.
Railing against, advancing his own provincial track,
All perception but an eye, blue-blood loyal
To some native New England tradition, bit of a rebel in him,
Light stoking the mind’s fire in its regard of matter.
I scanned his books online, via the Provincetown FAWC wi-fi.
It took old friends from Boston to scam me from that screen.
We walked along the harbor, drank ale, snapped lobster.
Up and down Commercial Street we found
The cathedral at Mont Saint-Michel, the Virgin Mary,
Poems, paintings, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy,
“The one in a thousand of writers and artists,”
“Fragments which flashed like jewels…”
While in a single pinch of dust the jolt to power
An entire city “would make in war short end of us.”
For five bucks we bought glasses that masked us,
Warded off the sun with caps, sucked oysters that kept
For days a sea inside of us, and drove to the dunes
Where my parents once honeymooned. Adams,
Old Brahmin, I found you there, stunned in your late
Middle years, your hooded, sexless eye
Weaving in and out of time. After your wife’s suicide,
You thrilled at the Shrine of Yeyasu,
Its carved and inlaid ceilings, its gilded pillars, flowers,
Mystic birds, and beyond it an entire Japanese village
Bathing naked! In the faux Zen garden
Every altar was tagged, summed to the dollar.
When we didn’t listen too close, we pulled a note
Of beauty from the air, windless wind chimes,
Speakers hidden somewhere, clacking above
The thrum of the waterfall’s electric pump
Like a loose-strung boat. For that was the province
Of the eye and not the ear, painters who had come
More than a hundred years, couples nuzzling each other
In affection or pure seminal power, blooming against
That other sense of weight and time and sheared experience.
–for Bill Cohn, Charlotte Cohn, and Sue Dahl
Stephen Haven is the author of The Last Sacred Place in North America (2012, winner of the New American Press Poetry Prize). He has published two previous collections of poetry, Dust and Bread (2008, for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year), and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestack (2004). He directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Ashland University, in Ohio. He was twice a Fulbright Professor of American literature at universities in Beijing.