SCHOOL UNDER THE BANYAN TREE
For Susan Gardner
Assembly line children,
We became accustomed to the artificial:
Stone, steel, glass, a desolate landscape
Without benefit of the earth’s compromising presence,
A patch of grass a sacred thing easily defiled.
Gutter pools with oil-slick coloration
Reflect imaginary universes, our aqua mercurialis,
Washed white, then red and gold in the dirty streets.
As men, we rush with blind haste to other lands
Where paradise unfolded quite naturally.
There, dirt, poverty, death—the merely sordid—are transformed
By narcissistic imaginings into the idyllic freedom
Of nature untouched by man’s maligning ambition.
But why should suffering and deprivation alter
Whether set beside the azure sea
Or between the city’s canyon walls?
Indeed, is this lapse of concern not greater,
More tragic and less open to evasion
Seen against this unmitigated lushness.
Thirty children seated under a banyan tree;
Barefoot, one garment each, chanting in unison:
“Nos ancestres etaient des Gaulois avec yeux bleu et cheveux blonds.”
(The textbooks gifts from France.)
Is this after all an Eden from which we can return
Refreshed, without remorse; is primitiveness
Required to maintain undiminished beauty for those
Who only wander there, unpossessed and unpossessing?
And which is the more incompatible life—
This unnecessary poverty amidst the grandeur of the earth
Or the isolation and hatred that our malicious cities breed,
False islands of dark hallucinations.