Editor's Note: "Department of Future Regrets" appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Camas. Click here to purchase the issue.
Department of Future Regrets
By Phillip Aijian
"There are no unsacred places / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places."
From newt gulch and trout river,
from glens of indigenous eucalyptus I came.
I pled their causes to the gods of diesel
and asphalt, men with maps and scissors,
hands with golden shovels. But their machines
did not listen and swept me away. I alone survive
the marsh and meadow; the golden finch
whose eggs grew thin beyond cracking. I left
when there was too little worth saving; my hands
too scarred and voice too hoarse, my blood
too weary an atonement for the sacrilege.
Most of us come from the public sector,
where our requests and names were ignored.
The Department of Future Regrets recruits
only those most cynical, our senses whittled
to tunnel vision, a locked jaw, the brief sigh.
I have a pet stormcloud who barks a little thunder
and follows me everywhere, keeping me
in the shadow to which I’ve become accustomed.
Someone, somewhere. is our motto, our creed.
We place our faith in sin and greed, and are not
disappointed. We count on catastrophe
and are not surprised.
Our pockets run deep, coffers coined from
the same purse as the Department of Defense,
numbers soon to be reckoned as bloodmoney.
Our founder was a carpenter—
a man whose chisel could coax
rocking chairs and filigree out of mahogany.
But bad luck obliged living in a town so violent
they could not wait for the coroner,
and measured the living. Puritan guilt caught up
when coffins had built the second nicest home
in the county. When he was 32 he bought the first field,
fallow beyond the regard of a tumbleweed
with a well crumbling at the north corner, choked
on dusty coins and bloody buckshot.
He bought others and in each buried a silver dollar.
His will declares the terms of the despair
we are heir to. We buy land and set it apart
as future tribute, prophetic memorial, offering
for offenses uncommitted. For wrongs
will be denied and judges will be bribed.
Ancient forests will be razed to supply a tycoon
with toothpicks. Senators will conspire and retire
into the repose of their contractually obliged Alzheimer’s.
The letters long hidden will at last be read
only for the words to crumble in trembling hands.
Blessed is the man who may go to a place and weep
when his fingers brush over the dull bronze
letters of a familiar name. Blessed is the man
who may limp to a monument when he is old;
when he has dreamed the dreams that wake him
with a cry, with a casting away of the phantom
weapon clutched by his younger, cleaner hands.
But how few these fortunate ones. How many
more have tried to build cairns to their cares
and were brushed away into the open grave
of another man’s apathy. Vengeance belongs
to the Lord, but mourning belongs to us.
We set aside a field for the next martyr
whose voice will be cut short in the midst of blessing.
We quarry sheets of granite to echo the unconsoled
pulses of weeping to those who will be too cowardly
to speak when yet he lives, whose streets will not be washed
of his blood. We prepare a plot upon which shall stand
dozens of glass panes, their presence nearly invisible,
so that each footprint, every tooth of gravel
or eddy of wind that whispers across the loam
will be revealed—hidden only in the night, God’s shadow.
These will stand for the soon to be nameless soldier
whose obedience shall be so total, no acknowledgement
but a folded flag and bugle’s lament shall be offered.
This place and another when a wall in Langley
has been filled with stars, not one shining.
To me, now, falls the lot of dreaming
of how to commemorate the Mississippi,
when our thirst has drained the delta;
when a mother shall name her son Noah,
and pray for floods. When that riverbed
has become a highway, when the Rio Grande
is a valley of bones, let son and mother
wander into the desert to find waters
we will set beyond all quenching.
Waves of steel will arise, each one a mountain,
adamantine icon for a gone people who could drink,
who could be washed clean; who are no longer among us.
I draw the wave crests sharp. I draw their shadows
like curf lines to the horizon. And, on a whim,
I scatter a handful of V’s,
as every boy knows
to draw a flock of birds.