West Across America, 2011


Quiet between mid-century mid-class homes and lawns

Among the traffic rumbling main street Middlebury

An easy smile and a casual wave from

An Amish lad guiding his buggy horse

A face not smug, but enigmatic

As if knowing, hiding, the deepest secrets of contentment.


All day, towns like toys slip away, more transient than time

Friday’s football fading slowly from their minds

The pom-pomed cheer girls packing off to schools

Their gridiron heroes married off like fools.

Across the rusted track, a warehouse shop is full

Cheap stuff growing, cars glowing, work shrinking, jobs going

Emptying out the churches, union halls and watering holes 

Of old army buddies telling one another lies.

None greater than “It’s good, I’m doing fine,

The bank’s been sold to a brand across the line. 

All’s well”,  ‘til Main Street diner’s closing time

Has come for ever.


Spaghetti knots of beltways, ramps and whoop-d-dos

Converge about some larger places, winners in the lottery of regulated planning

That sucked the good folk from the farms and towns.

Encircling, choking, obscuring, bypassing

Grandpa’s ‘Roads and Routes, the gateways to a sometime market town

Littered now with burger joints and muffler shops,

Surrounded out beyond with mega-churches, office parks, and car sale lots 

Surrendered to the dealers in a thousand brands of faith, hope, mobility.

The language is a babel, the lie is in the label

Used to mask the hollowness, loss of vision, lack of progress.

The secret to avoiding oblivion or strife

Lies in mastering all ambiguity, the adjectives of modern life.


The birthplace of ol’man river slips below 

Dividing the home of a most divided nation

Embarrassed by the somber granite faces

Staring south from high above the west

Monumental faces diminishing the viewers

Monumental audacity diminishing imagination 

Monumental tackiness diminishing us all

Reduces our love,  patriotism, identity

To hollow consumption.


A worthy town marks the end of the farms

And of the 7 million captive hogs

Who wander in each year to be transfigured

In what is called now a processor, as if there is a future

beyond the bolt from the blue, the red rush, the fade to white 

the end of all that’s brave and free.

Beyond the tracks they tidy up the town

Tart up old houses, manicure the lawns

So eastern culture feels comfort here at the western edge 

Before the land rises to expose a foreign thing.


Wind swept across the high plains drifting, scouring away all life

A vast rangeland without a herd in view

The radio crackling on about simple values, loss of love and

Where is god in all this vast expanse of life and lifelessness,

And where is this going, what am I driving at?

A warm bed, decent sleep, a clear road home,

Comprehension, Enlightenment, Contentment.

The horizon void  of all but a smudge

An open pit mine miles across

With endless strings of cars rolling out on tracks

Across the trackless grassy ridges towards

Someplace anyplace else.


Below the grandeur of the snowy peaks

Away from the faithful rumblings of nature

Towns and townsfolk divided by their kind

Scrappy, tinny, tiny folk struggling to find

A foothold in a hard, hard land

Smug, large, larded folk straining to find

Meaning in a soft, soft life.

West of the divide the traffic thickens

They drive now slow

With nowhere else to go

But into the sea or back to the east

The one impossible as the other undesired.


So they bottle up the roads, creating, building

artificial novelty spaces, sterile resort worlds

magic kingdoms, fantasy lands of the imagination

electronic societies in which everyone

befriends everyone and  knows none.

Sitting, staring, entranced 

With the marvel of the place and their own stupefaction

Blighting the beauty with their great self satisfaction.


And to the south, the sun slips down beyond a gilded gate,

Knowing, hiding, the deepest secrets of contentment.

 © Philip Knight 2018