Erasure: What is ruined in America

from Teju Cole’s essay, “Robert Adams’s Roadworks,” New York Times Magazine, 10/28/18

What has been ruined in America

Making pictures.

A record of mystery and beauty.

Sunlight, generally crisp—shadow.

Turn the page.

The West, black and white.

Well, not white—

Can we believe a view?

Inifinity fence posts.

Charcoal. A shadow falling

across the picture of promise.

An open road, a clear sky.

A new statement.

Its own form.

 

The phrase “what as been ruined in America” caught my eyes immediately. It’s mere days after the midterms and it feels like America is neither wholly ruined nor saved. It’s like an uncontrolled forest fire that has has been contained in one region thanks to a recent change in weather conditions. I’m waiting for the whole thing to flare up again at any moment. Actually, in This Week’s Shooting in southern California, you could say it has.

I wanted to root around in the paragraphs that followed that eye-catching opener. But the words weren’t popping out at me, I couldn’t seem to feel how I was going to black out lines of text. I skimmed the page to get a better sense of what I could work with. (Sometimes I just START and see what happens as I go). I decided this would be more of a found-text poem.

I had a fat, brush-tip Sharpie with me that I don’t remember buying. And when I was done, since I didn’t have the poem produced by the act of inking out the rest, I wrote it right over the page, which was well laid out for me to do so. Plus, the photograph and text are already in dialogue.

Typing it up a day later, the poem felt a little slack. Phrases like “turn the pages / of the American West” seemed like overly-obvious signifiers of overly broad meaning. I realized I could make the poem more a list under the title of the poem.

Now, instead of the “ruin” being described as a charcoal shadow that falls across an open road, we confront that coal is ruined. The open road and clear skies are ruined by traffic, deteriorating infrastructure, and pollution. It comes out as a poem listing parts of America’s very fibre, very myth of self, that don’t seem to work anymore. Hollywood’s golden years (making pictures), behind us, and #MeToo staring us in the face. The mystery and beauty of the landscape, the promise of middle-class dreams attained and fenced in…

A Revolution in National Life

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