Across from the Roslyn Mill
By Kalev Pehme
Have you thought O dreamer that it may be all maya, illusion?
At Cedarmere where Byrant lived, lilies
Impressionistically now splotch the pond.
There are many red, ripe, wild strawberries.
There are waterfowl near, and then beyond
I hear Whitman singing and I respond
With horseshoe crabs, seagulls, and glacial rocks
From a harbor of which I am so fond.
(Long Island where they both lived as unorthodox
Poets no longer reads after a few epochs.)
Oddly, Roslyn evokes the transcendence
Of the Nineteenth’s romantics who dreamed
Of a New World bringing independence
To all the globe. George Washington redeemed
Himself over there and now he is esteemed,
A name for a restaurant and hotel.
One time local shellfish could still be steamed
Without fear of pollution; now, of course, the swell
Of chemical wastes infects where all creatures dwell.
“As the old mother sways her to and fro
Singing her husky song…” I hear it still
And see the future’s “clef” in audio
And in the constant turning of the mill,
Antique ornament preserved to fulfill
Nostalgia’s suburban need. They have missed
What Whitman would have seen next to this kill:
The greatest wheel has fallen from the sky; its grist
Is ground in starless nights in cycles that persist.
Like Tibetan prayers, invisible, breezes
In the trees and nightmares for the dreamers.
The dark ebb and flow never appeases
This omenless world and never freezes
What is below, rolling like whales in deep
Sluggish myth whose power never eases
The sense that something weird arises from the sleep
To stare at you from where all your doubled selves weep.
“To-day a rude brief recitative,” writes
Whitman of ships sailing into this port
Or to the further reaches of lights
Illuminating all the seas. The short
Stanza reminds us of how this resort
Was reached by city summerers long
Before suburbs spread into nature’s court.
Ferry after white ferry brought the happy throng,
Women with parasols when innocence was strong.
Bryant was dead; Whitman was old, dying,
In New Jersey. What’s irreversible
Is repeated, death after death, crying,
No, caroling the negligible,
What we give up to abominable
Sacred coincidence, a zodiac
For the petting zoo, untranslatable,
Bequeathed to dirt and grass, dozing amnesiac,
Somewhere waiting for you to wake and bring him back.
Paying homage to the old mill, repeats
Again, again, the star’s spiritual
You sing of yourself to future heartbeats
On this strange Paumanok of asphalt streets,
Huge cars, and tract houses, spirits of ghosts
Detached like memory’s lapse, its own deceit.
They wait to rematerialize, the past’s guideposts,
To emerge as its murderous, angelic hosts.
George Washington slept here, the legend states
Truthfully. Roslyn returns to the thought
Of its minutiae of death and birth dates.
Fulgurations of thunderstorms have brought
Fresh ozone to the air; the day is fraught
With discontinuity; it’s the right
Moment, precise, order of guilt, that’s wrought
In the metal wheel, precessed, leaving a slight
Extra, a leaf of grass, to mow away in spite.
Every symbol is a specter of this park
Dissolving in its reassembled pieces
Bryant and Whitman’s poetical spark,
Grinding it down under the hard creases
Of the millstone surface, our caprices
Notwithstanding. Walt can’t escape this turn
No matter how joy and sorrow ceases.
All things change; the world must be destroyed in modern
Revolution—victims fill all with unconcern.
The beaches are quiet, while car horns blare
In the distance on the viaduct way.
The rush-hour traffic stalled goes nowhere.
The grass is green. Creation is the tear
At the origin of things. So what’s new?
Perhaps this park is meant to be aware,
Fearful there is no cycle, only impromptu
Chaos, nothing, even if the millwheel turns true.