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By Constance Urdang


Take your boulevards, your Locust Street,

Your Chestnut, Pine, your Olive,

Take your Forest Park and Shaw’s Garden,

Your avenues that lead past street-corner violence,

Past your West End, past your Limit,

To shabby suburban crime,

Vandalism in the parking-lot,

Abductions from the shopping mall—

Like making the same mistake over and over

On the piano or typewriter keys,

Always hitting the wrong note—

How “very alive, very American”

They are, how chockful of metaphysics,

Hellbent to obliterate the wilderness.


Learn to live with sycamores,

Their sad, peeling trunks, scabbed all over

With shabby patches, their enormous leaves

In dingy shades of ochre and dun

Rattling like castanets, their roots

Thick as a man’s leg, crawling

Like enormous worms out of the broken pavements,

Continually thrusting themselves up

From pools of shade they make,

Sculpturing the street

With dappled dark and light

As glaucoma, a disease of the eye,

Makes the world more beautiful

With its mysterious rainbows.


Already in Iowa the monarchs are emerging,

Signaling with their tawny wings;

In regalia of burnt orange and umber

The spangled imperial procession

Meanders along the democratic roadsides,

Across straight state lines,

Over rivers and artificial lakes

And the loneliness of middle America

On the way to Mexico.

The tiny wind of their passing

Is not even recorded

As a disturbance in the atmosphere.


Driving back into the American past,

Homesick for forests, flowers without names, vast savannahs,

Lowlands or mountains teeming with game,

Bluffs crowned with cottonwoods, mudbanks

Where crocodiles might sun themselves;

Finding instead the remains of strange picnics,

Replications of old selves, a cacophony of changes

Like a room crowded with chairs

In which no one can sit, as if history were furniture

Grown splintered and shabby;

Studying a picturesque rustic architecture

To master its splendid abstractions,

Shady verandas and porches,

Or the republican simplicity of a cow.

Constance Urdang, “To Live with a Landscape” from The Lone Woman and Others. Copyright © 1980. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: The Lone Woman and Others (1980)

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Poet Bio

Constance Urdang
Poet and novelist Constance Urdang was born in New York, and attended Smith College and the University of Iowa. She worked as an editor for several New York publishers before she returned to school in 1954. In 1955, she married the poet Donald Finkel, and they moved to Mexico, where they lived until 1960. From 1974 until her death, she was on the Washington University faculty, where she taught and coordinated several writing programs. In poems such as “Reflections on History in Missouri,” and “To Live with Landscape,” Urdang uses a free verse form to reflect on the image of America, both past and present. See More By This Poet

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