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)
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.
More By This Poet
Reflections on History in Missouri
This old house lodges no ghosts!
Those swaggering specters who found their way
Across the Atlantic
Were left behind
With their old European grudges
In the farmhouses of New England
Like so much jettisoned baggage
To lug over the Piedmont.
The flatlands are inhospitable
To phantoms. Here
Travel is a vanishing act
Only to those who are left behind.
What the traveler knows
Is that he accompanies himself,
Unwieldy baggage that can’t be checked,
Stolen, or lost, or mistaken.
So one took, past outposts of empire,
“Calmly as if in the British Museum,”
More Poems about Nature
What Women Are Made Of
Clavicle and nape, what lies forked in an open palm;
we are follicle and temple. We are ankle, arch,
sole. Pore and rib, pelvis and root
and tongue. We are wishbone and gland and molar
Of Tribulation, these are They,
Denoted by the White.
— Emily Dickinson
in the split geode
a Santa’s grotto
every surface —
like sea urchins’ —
in the doorways
sleepers from the womb
to make of anything succulent
More Poems about Social Commentaries
Vagrants and Loiterers
You got that clean waistcoat,
the bright white of a well-tailored
shirt, you got those loose-as-sacks
slacks and some spit-polished shoes,
and you know, whether you are looking
like money, or about to take a stroll,
to tilt that hat like you own
the world; yeah, smoke...
Back Up Quick They’re Hippies
That was the year we drove
into the commune in Cornwall.
“Jesus Jim,” mam said,
“back up quick they’re hippies.”
Through the car window,
tents, row after row, flaps open,
long-haired men and women
curled around each other like babies
and the babies themselves
wandered naked across the grass.