|"Richmond Hill" by LS Lowry|
When they laid the first brick they said
This is progress,
and then they laid another, promising to carry on
until there was a wall
where previously the wind had blown without obstruction
across the grass. The wall
was high and strong, with just one row of narrow
windows for light to pass through.
Look at what is possible, they said
as they drew up plans for the second wall.
These will stand through any storms, they claimed,
and storms came to test them
and the walls remained.
Foxes came to sniff. They didn’t understand
what was happening. Swallows
flew above and in between the walls
until the third and fourth sides of a mighty rectangle
were complete. Sometimes a swallow
would go in through a window and fly playfully
out of the open space held aloft
by the walls. This is the future, they said,
this is the place
where darkness will turn to money.
So they covered the space with a roof
which blocked out light
except for the long, dusty shafts
that streamed in when the sun
was on the window side, and the valley appeared
to sit deeper in the earth
because of the weight
pushing down. Only a circling hawk
remained of the sky. They raised a tall chimney
and fed it with coal. This is the power, they said,
that nature forgot, and as they bowed their heads
in prayer a viper
slithered by and spat a hiss.
Many came to see it. Many more
entered by the door and stayed inside until each day
was over. Those who praised it
never went inside, but said to those who did,
You’re fortunate, be grateful. So the line formed
every morning, and each man
bowed his head as he moved to his assigned position
while outside, the deer
on their way to the river ran by
until water no longer ran there
because it had been redirected
and after it had been used
it became a kind of poison
so the decision was made
to have it soak into the ground and disappear,
but it was still there,
like fire just beneath the surface of the earth.
We need another one just like it,
they said, and they marked the ground
for the new one to stand on. We must cut down
these trees, they said, and lay a new foundation
that will seal the earth.
It looked just like the one before it
and those who entered looked
just like the ones who entered the first one.
Two were not enough.
However many they built
they kept on finding people to feed into them
and the many chimneys
poured waste into the sky
as if to make an offering to whichever gods
survived in the smoke.
So it continued, each one followed by the next
until no trace remained
of the grass in the valley and the trees on the hills,
and nobody who came to see
what had replaced them
could ever imagine the way it used to be
when the air was clear enough
for the sparrows to be seen
with their feathers turning gold
as they flocked in early sun.
Don’t think about the past,
they said, your memories will not feed you.
And they kept on building,
beating down the earth
to make it level for another floor,
creating enclosures where once had been space,
and when they were sure
nobody could remember what they had replaced
a man old enough to have been dead several times
stood up to speak about what had been lost
but he could not be heard
above the growling of machines.
More, they said, we need more.
And it did not matter how many,
they were too few. Some sparrows appeared,
and a lost fox, but no matter
how few were the animals
they said, They are too many.
David Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in England, and spent several years in Vienna before moving to Phoenix in1978. He pursued his visual art and had several shows as well as writing and publishing his poetry in magazines and collections, the latest of which is The Devil’s Sonata from FutureCycle Press. Although he became ever more interested in the desert and its wildlife, the shadow side of Vienna emerges in his fiction and The Taste of Fog, which was published by Rain Mountain Press.