321/365: Our Smooth, Gleaming Arc Bending Toward an Ever-Brighter Tomorrow

 

We were all supposed to believe
in our future’s linear progression
marched to the beat of the moral world.
In Christian Ethics, they called it "progressive revelation",
which did away with the difficulty of Old Testament rules.
We could eat shrimp and wear mixed fabrics and braid our hair,
because God didn't mean it anymore.
In History, they told us white people
discovered every part of the globe,
inventing it all as they went,
and the poor foreign people were all barely conscious,
because primitives could not understand progress.
They were not servants of a greater will.
They didn't have our smooth, gleaming arc
bending toward an ever-brighter tomorrow.
We had metaphorical doves to send out
so they could return with confirmation
of the discovery of our preordained future:
"Yes, all that came before brought you to this place.
What is part of your story becomes yours."
Our histories were strings of successes,
as though we won and won and won,
as though every good thing confirmed
the inevitability of our absolute consumption.

I lay in bed at nine,
helpless and staring into the black.
I had witnessed a gawping fetal bird that summer.
It took its first panicked breaths
in its broken shell amid its scrambled siblings,
and then it took its last under my merciful boot heel.
The brutal truth telegraphed up through my body,
skewered electric through the chainlink of my bones,
until all of me knew:
every last breathing thing would die.
None of us, no matter how good, could escape,
and a sinister chill grew
through the once-good smooth, gleaming arc of progress.
I was to lead a correct life, follow the correct narrative,
and then I, too, could be part of the smooth, gleaming arc of progress.
There would be children, and a spouse, and money,
and a boat I could take people riding in,
and then one day I could be an old person
who looked back with satisfaction on a good life —
all of these things would be natural rewards —
but that arc left no freedom for true dreaming,
and my heart sucked itself dry,
a tongue in a silenced mouth.

I couldn't stop myself from asking,
what will be left, then,
when we all arrive at that same end?
If we believed the stories well enough,
the best of us would arrive at a greater beyond,
that last stop in the smooth, gleaming arc,
but, in the end,
that arc served up only more of itself,
an unchanging forever of the same gleaming smoothness.

Suddenly, it seemed
we were good children who’d climbed willingly onto a plate,
and the reward was horrific,
an invention worthy of every horror cinema could concoct,
modern machinery's platonically ideal form.
We had learned to consume to be consumed,
and I wondered if our storied shepherd
had pulled our own veritable wool over our eyes.

And so I lay in my bed at nine,
weeping until my pillow went cold
because my eyes saw us marching to the slaughter,
one to which we’d not only agreed but also mapped out the path,
and my whole, stricken heart
prayed for a merciful boot.


I am writing one poem every day in 2016, and I am using the hashtag #365poems to document my progress.