Way to the West
Eleven at night sunset still going on
could be just the latitude
what’s wrong is the color
horseshit ochre everywhere roiling
like paper twisting and browning
before it fires up from hot ashes
there’s somebody’s Hell ahead
meantime our lips are prickling
and the trees are dead
but it’s another 20 miles before the sign
SUDBURY and Christ there on a skull of a hill
3 Manhattan-size stacks phallic Calvary
ejaculating essence of rotted semen
straight up mass sabotage at Cape Kennedy
The damned are all over
The young shriek look much like anybody
drag-racing with radios up
but a smouldering stoplight brakes them
at every twisted corner
Older faces assembled from half Europe
but under the neons all screwcheeked
and pitted the same way
something restful about their devilship
stares me down…till they come human
houcking brown on the cement
73% OF THE FREE WORLD’S NICKEL IS CREATED HERE
And God created a special cough
not even a hundred beerhalls dampen
higher than the jukes in the doorways
Milton thou shouldst be living etc.
DEAD END where’s west? sunset’s gone
Pavements heaving streets wriggle
through openings in blasted bedrock
Headlights finger dumps of cans
stone flowing in pink folds
glazed guts on a counter
Falling out of the dark
the roar of chimneys
how long before you stop noticing
and the smart in the eyes?
By a stripped car an Indian sits
YOU ARE LEAVING SUDBURY / CENTRE OF
20 miles of deserted battlefield again
If there is need of a bigger…
FREE ENTERPRISE WILL BUILD IT!!
The dumb pines waiting
a moon yellows up
FRENCH RIVER / TURN OFF 300 FEET / Historic Site
beyond the bridge we stop for a leak
What was it the canoe pass the Hurons found?
and told the whites where it was
dumb as the trees
the scrapped way to the West silks
Vietnam gold the moon
shines over the middle of nowhere
Too late for other cars silence
we stand there just to hear it
Did they get all the owls?
nothing then some kind of low growl
coming up! we start for the car —
After it passes we begin to realize
we’d been hearing the river too.
Birney, Earle. “Way to the West.” Memory No Servant. Trumansburg, NY: New, 1968. 51–52.
Reprinted with the permission of Wailan Low, executor of the estate of Earle Birney.