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."
--Wendell Berry

 

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. 

"Mutating Meme in a United Amoeba" by Mitchell Pluto also appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Camas.

"Mutating Meme in a United Amoeba" by Mitchell Pluto also appears in the Summer 2016 issue of Camas.