29 April 2011

thinking of earth day...

...which was last week, i know, but this poem keeps coming up in my mind. "Paumanok" is a Native American word for Long Island, NY. Whitman wrote a poem "Paumanok," which is what got me started. the events are recalled from stories, probably mythic, told by some of my teachers when i was in elementary school.


Oh Proud Paumanok

Oh proud Paumanok, where have you come?
Your shores are black with filth and scum.
Your air, once pure and clean, now chokes,
For all its cars expel their smokes.
How many shopping malls must we have,
Pillars of salt and golden calve?
Paved with some intentions and concrete
To lay on Paumanok one more street.
The parkway Floyd destroyed one town:
Diner and general store torn down.
Housing developers killed the farms
And people flocked here, came in swarms.
Before my time, still on my mind:
No place to hang out, nothing to find.
Fast food places grace town square.
(To call it that is quite unfair.)
The only good this town retains:
The vast Pine Barrens, semi-pure, remain.
The forest largely has been traded
For apartments, offices, humanity jaded.
Of cars and people, the ever-present hum—
Oh, proud Paumanok! where have you come?

Oh proud Paumanok, where have you gone?
Your once bright shores with fishers on?
Once vastly forested, oaked and pined;
Flora and fauna less confined.
Highways scarce and farms abound
And to the north a crystal sound.
Gem of New York! Its tourmaline tail!
Whose men, like Ahab, hunted whale;
For whale-like, fish-like island form
Dropped in the midst of ocean warm.
Or, on winter’s day, Great South froze over,
And sled became an ocean rover.
Across to Fire Island they’d go
To brave the bluffs of solid snow.
Ice cutters out on Lake Success
Or Ronkonkomathe bottomless.”
When water turned the Yaphank mill,
No water tower stood upon Jayne’s Hill.
When natives paddled the Peconic,
Free was Shoreham of plant catatonic.
There are battles lost and battles won—
But, oh, proud Paumanok! where have you gone?

Oh proud Paumanok, where are you going?
Farmland selling and no more growing?
Corn, potatoes, richest crops,
Vineyards abandoned for blacktops.
Houses building for some higher class,
Cookie-cutter’d, powered by natural gas.
Where from are these people coming,
Living costs rising and commerce numbing?
Mom and Pop have left the isle;
Needs are met in another aisle.
Is there no end to this destruction?
Can there be no slight reduction?
We ask for peace, yet monger war;
We close the window, but lock the door;
We aim to protect, to conserve,
But also we deplete reserves.
Our island Long sinks every day
To know such people claim its clay.
Tribute taken we must replace;
Poor Paumanok lies in gilded grace!
Our island needs us to repent!
To find simplicity! to fix our dent!
This cavity is finally showing—
Oh, proud Paumanok! where are you going?

Kevin F. Story
19 Jan 08; rev. 21 Jan 08

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