Solar Ricardo

Solar Ricardo

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A poem for city councils everywhere

Iowa City's continued efforts to destroy its historic downtown reminded me of this poem by my father, Robert Dana.  He wrote it after attending a Coralville city council meeting, but I think it pretty much addresses how city politics works everywhere....


Last night, at the town council
meeting, what was it we were
trying to save? One council
member dozed; the other four
were glassy eyed; bored with
arguments they’d disposed of
months before. The air in the
brand new, stale, utilitarian
chamber smelled of done deals.
And anyhow, what do citizens
know? “We appreciate your
sincerity,” one member says.
“Yes, and you’ve brought a lot
of emotion to the issue,” says
another. “But you don’t under-
stand the figures.” The tongues
of the grass, though they be with-
out number, don’t speak to them.
They’ve had our figures. And
the grass has no rights. Trees
have no rights. The fat, base-
ball capped developer with his
shirt-tail hanging out
and suspect financing, and who
addresses council members
by first name, makes that clear.
“If there’s an alfalfa field
there now or a stand of trees—
anyone who buys from me
will know up front that that’s
not going to be an alfalfa
field or trees very long.
I bought this land to build on.”
So the deer in the meadow
along the nearby creek have
no rights, the creekwater no
rights, nor the air. No rights
for the hare or the hawk, red-
headed woodpecker, white-throated
sparrow; no rights for the fox.
And the farmland disappears
and then the farmer, and then....
If, as Paul Valery once wrote,
“Politics is the art of keeping
out of the process those who
will be most affected by it,”
 then I guess you could say
we got politicked. And pretty good,
too. By day, young brokers roar
on the floor of the exchange.
By night, to our north, suburbs
metastasize. Circuit boards of
a trivial and pointless future.
As we file out—Goodbye, Goodbye
—across the frozen parking lot
to our separate cars, thank god
it’s dark and cold and winter’s
first hard snow is blowing.

                                                Robert Dana