American Pastoral


Robert Gibbons

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 117 in February, 2009.

The old dog next door lets out its ritual bark of pain, whimper, & cry. They put another hundred thousand into that house & barn after getting it for a good price last year. The authorities won’t let us burn leaves like we did as kids on Winthrop, on Broad, on Chestnut. Olfactory memory of a wondrously seemingly innocent Past still circulates at this Time of year in this hemisphere, but we’ll be packing oak & maple leaves into fifty-+ paper & plastic bags come October, & then another ton come spring. The freight blew through town at the scheduled 4:42 avoiding interruption of those headed to work later, but Hell to pay for the more manual laborers due to punch in at 5:00. Woke to the sweet low sound of the Maine Central train. Our own car wouldn’t start yesterday causing a bit of trepidation about our shoe-string economy, what with my layoff two months ago under this heartless bushwhacked administration. But with the layoff came the opportunity to seize Freedom, & although I’ve never been accused of being a Nature poet, it was Nature itself that salved my workingman’s Soul by walking out early near the sea to catch first sun, to breathe in the wind, to read the ancient ledges, cuneiform, petroglyphic, & monumental, savor changes in colors from New England asters, mountain ash berries, embankments filled with goldenrod. Over on Sturdivant’s Wharf I talked my way past Jeff’s protective interrogation to witness six seals in the current heading under Casco Bay Bridge, which allowed me the pleasure of sharing the scene with her come Sunday, when no one’s there to grill us. The opposite of an expendable poet in this universe, she’s in demand in the American workforce with unique skills garnered hard over the years. She’s half the reason I could seize Freedom & find solace in Nature. Now, at noon, we walk along Back Cove together, where she’ll take a break from her own fleet exercise & gait to commune with any bird, whether the Great Blue heron as symbol of longevity, or that small flock of three egrets landing together yesterday like a toss of six sticks querying the I Ching.


Wilderness is certainly a thing of the Past in this country, unless it can be transformed philosophically inside, into that visceral, Timeless Solitude. Here in Maine we have a better chance than many to find outside places to match inside territories, but we’re still not immune from the intrusion of 21st century economic politics on a daily basis, so that when I discussed with Walter Phillips just yesterday our shared fear of the ability of the American electorate to make any decisions this November other than those reflected in their SUV gas guzzling driving habits, their anger & road rage repressed under cell phone deaf & dumb, somatic trances, well, we weren’t entirely optimistic. I once saw a wild turkey running crazily through this very neighborhood. A good sign. Love the osprey & kingfisher. I’d only heard about the moose up on crowded Munjoy Hill. Spotted the fox behind the building of my former employ. But I also hear one of our vice-presidential candidates likes to shoot my favorite animal, the polar bear, from the cockpit of a helicopter, & today it’s reported Hewlett-Packard is going to layoff 24,600 workers as a result of its acquisition of Electronic Data Systems. How many of them can wait six weeks for unemployment benefits, or have the support of an empathetic partner? How many can find communion with the Natural World, read the signs, interpret the birds’ & wind’s gentle messages? How many will implode, give up, & instead of finding strength in Solitude, find nothing, but dejection & despair?