Joshua Scott-Fishburn

America, As Seen from Gloucester, Massachusetts

What is the bedrock of this place?  What base?
Look at the tidal sea beyond Cape Ann:
hardest ledge lives underneath, creeps towards us
day and night, lays hard by, makes America,
pushes Earth west.  The stone itself immigrant,
refusing to settle, subverting what
came before it and leaving itself a
hard consequence.  This is about what is
hard.  It is hard to feel. America
feels hard, hard to feel: and it always has.

 

Obstinate, obdurate, America
heaps to raise otherwise tidal-flat Gloucester
seeing only things at sea level.  Great
ledges on the northern shore, racked beneath
the water pile onto emerging land.
Early immigrant settlers in Upper
Parish stripped the thin crust of topsoil from
this America and revealed hunger
and incessant toil.  Then they disappeared
into the ocean fisheries, leaving
space for local barons such as Babson
who did not consider himself immigrant
but a landowner, who employed
Finnish stonecutters to make paving stones,
building blocks, famous walls
and monuments.  Harvesting America
at low and lower tides they took the flakes
and slabs as offerings and mined so much
of America that in not quite 100
years people who did not think of themselves
as immigrants any longer feared
America would disappear, that there
would be no more left of America.

 

When you know its nature, America
splits like wood.  Despite this, I have seen men
hammer and drill at it with great expense
of time and physical suffering,
unaware of how America breaks
if they would merely work within the grain.
There is a grain on which with the touch
of a hammer to the feather and wedge
the rock splits.  Finns brought this knowledge with them
to America, and keep it with them
though rust eats away their tools and quarries
where they used to work are filled with water.
America litters our yards, scattered
in immigrant stones from the moraine pushed
here from away, north and east.  It threatens
my house, the retaining wall that, looming,
upholds Govenor’s Park: stacked blocks always
shifting, settling, falling downhill towards where
my children play. Because Gloucester bedrock,
digging is impossible.  Terraces
of my neighborhood were built with piled trash,
mounds of waste pushed into hardscape to shape
the immigrant granite planet.  Somewhere
else is where we look if anything here
will flourish: we import immigrant soil—
immigrant dirt from somewhere else feeds us.
I don’t know what I’m writing about, but
I know it’s hard, and much worse for people
who, like America itself, come here
from somewhere else to find their skin color
or the nature of their religion shat
upon, broken into shards and splinters
by hacks who make America hard,
fragmented and dangerous, unstable.
America: where bedrock is replaced
with treacherous pools in which the lucky
swim, or drown if you’re not.  Where we fracture
our America with jets of poison
water to make saleable fuel so we
can continue skimming across the surface
of America, never settling,
never making peace with the land beneath us.

 

I saw a photo from 1961,
a man who dressed like me ramming molten
steel down a crack in Rockport, splitting huge
pieces of America with fire.  This
is about what is hard.  The orders banning
Muslims from this country: unforgiving,
bad and most corrupt.  They, they are the stuff
America is made of—immigrants.

 

We should consider ourselves immigrants.
Who dares deny the force that always pulls
America out from the sea?  We break
this bedrock into monstrous walls, and it
becomes dangerous.  People can pry up
cobblestones and hurl them at police.
The same gravity that lends cut stones weight
pulls and topples walls without exception.

 

In our time America in pieces
lies all over earth, scattered.  Earth: the place
in Space where granite, and America, can be found.
Gloucester, who is here to feel how hard is
America?  Where is the feeling here?
A man named Deth, son from Cambodia,
told someone I know that feeling requires
muscle memory.  It takes practice:
practice receiving and recognizing,
practice feeling.  With practice we will learn
that experience is not monolithic.
Drill, feather, wedge, break up the monolith
that is America.  Now dream that stuff
into cities everywhere that feel.