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The Design of To-Morrow

ISSUE:  Autumn 1999
According to Popular Mechanics, April, 1951,
all of this should have been taken care of by now:
so many roads leading nowhere. In those glossy pages
rocket packs soar over domed cities and all of us
take in delicious food through translucent tubes
and somehow, two moons: one where we farm
our wholesome “food of the future”;
one where we know provocative dances and greet each other,
each mingled race, with intricate handshakes
and bright smiles beneath our visors.
    To think of the far-reaching
conclusions we draw, and in such bright colors . . .
well, there’s been a miscalculation somewhere, a hitch
in one of our complicated tenses: past, present, future;
the same human problem over and over. Even as I speak,
I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s true that we have established
a day before Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—a tune
no one was humming as they stepped
heavily through the square, and this space, this before, is where
the greatest absence lies; big bang, before Christ. Imagine
the terrible dreams of the first explorers
carrying canoes across our continent;
vicious fish, snakes bigger than bears, topographical lines
of the map showing only where they’d been.

    But they woke, walked the earth
and did not fall off, they tried to solve the problem
of armadillos: exactly how deadly
are they? Do we dare push through and disturb
their heavily armored sleep?
They named the wide river,
then crossed it. These days our dreams
are finite, solidified—we shy from the known edge
of the water. We solve problems
by saying Strongly Agree, Agree Somewhat, Not Sure,
Somewhat Disagree, Disagree Strongly.
A recent test proves
that the bloody tears on the cheeks of the Madonna are actually
of blood from a worshipper’s cut finger, as if that weren’t
an illustration of grief. In my hometown they’ve been planning
the same bridge for twenty years while the river gets wider.
Beethoven wrote one note. Then another.


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