Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Appalachian Wasteland

A new book found its way into my library last week: "Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smoky Mountains", a collaboration by Eliot Porter who did the photographs, and Edward Abbey who wrote the text. I only learned about the existence of this work recently; surprising given that I have loved both Edward Abbey and Eliot Porter separately for years, and have other books by both of them. "Appalachian Wilderness" is a hard book, describing the beauty of the Smoky Mountains (well illustrated with Porter's lovely photographs) against a backdrop of tragedy, the tragic removal of the Cherokee Indians, and the continuing crimes against the Earth committed by the ravenous American culture that followed. What remains is a destitute legacy of ignorance and greed, visible in many places throughout the region. I made my own pilgrimage to the Smoky Mountains in 1992, and wrote this piece somewhere in Tennessee. There remain, fortunately, some small remnants of the wilderness that the Cherokees roamed, the true owners of the land. They took far better care of it than the culture that decimated them ever will. But the wheel turns, and what goes around, comes around. As for Cowboys, the Motel, I can still remember the stink of the cockroach insecticide...
....... Cowboys
It was one of those redneck restaurants
With sawdust on the floor
Full of fat folks
Stuffing hushpuppies in their cheeks
Like squirrels in the Spring
Who dig up buried treasure
Bowls of peanuts on every table
Fat folks tossing peanut shells
On the sawdust covered floor
Not a one noticing the lake
The large and silent man-made lake
What former valley sleeps below
The oily water
Fouled by the spew
Of ten thousand motor boats
Full of beer-swilling
Redneck country bumpkins
Welcome to the center of America
The wasteland

And just down the lakeshore
From Cowboys, the restaurant
Is Cowboys, the motel
A wonderfully luxurious hotel
Style mid-America late twentieth century
The most be-a-oot-i-full room imaginable
Nothing but the best for my love and I
Orange closet doors mock the sunrise
Oak paneling, fake
Brick wall, fake
Lime green metal armchairs
Fragonards on the wall
A humongous air conditioner
The obligatory TV
Big metal outdoor style trashcan
In the corner
Combo fridge-oven-sink
And the crowning touch
The Leaning Toilet of Tennessee
The Pope knows it will fall one day
But meanwhile parks his buttocks
Once again
Trying to lose the load
Of flounder and cowboy taters
That he took on last night
And all night long
The chainsaw ran
Down by the lakeshore
Slaughtering peasants
By moonlight

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