Charles Goodrich

Millennial Spring

      The factory squats at the confluence of the rivers, where the Kalapuya had a potlatch ground. In vacant lots nearby, purple camas is blooming. Turkey vultures roost in cottonwood groves by the river. Beavers and foxes on nighttime errands ignore each other. There's a park with soccer fields and hiking trails, a littered encampment where bleary men roll up in blue tarps, and a skinny-dipping beach on the gravel bar.
      My house is up the street, beyond the cemetery. Last night riding my bike past the factory I stopped and wrote--

                              Night shift whoosh
                                          of steam. A forlklift's
                                    back-up beeper.
                                          The factory wheezing
                                                wounded air.

      The factory wants to expand. I find myself along with dozens of neighbors organizing in opposition. The factory makes fiberglass. The air we breathe is studded with microscopic shreds of glass. After another late night meeting, six of us lean on our bicycles, talking. This is our social life, of late: strategy meetings and streetcorner hand-wringings. All of us are tired and grumpy. Suddenly I smell something.

                                    Shut up!
                              Smell that cottonwood sap?
                                    We've missed
                                          the arrival of spring.

      I work as a gardener for the County Courthouse, and I'm way behind. Today I pruned the roses, the latest I have ever done so. As always, an elderly lady regards my severely pruned canes and asks, "Young man, do you know what you're doing?" Riding home in the evening I see a man at the back door of the factory, smoking a cigarette and gazing at the sky.

                              Yes, the gibbous moon
                                          is lovely
                              through safety goggles.

      The comet, Hyakatake, has been visiting the past few nights, a swatch of stardust in the eastern sky. After our son is asleep, my wife and I go out into the garden and hold each other and gaze at it.

                              Warm shoulders, fragrant hair.
                              When this comet comes again

                                          we'll be gone.

      The next night the comet has moved a little north, and the exhaust plumes from the factory rise toward it.

                              Your presence, comet,
                                          sweetens somehow the evening's
                                                      aroma of skunk.

      We have done a prodigious amount of research, read medical journals, studied the arcane language of pollution-control engineering. We cannot get the men who manage the factory to acknowledge any shred of possibility that there may be adverse health effects from respiring glass fibers. This tends to exaggerate our fears.

                              One must hope
                              that the great blue heron
                              fishing in the factory's settling pond

                                          catches nothing.

      To sit in the backyard grass, to lean and loaf while my son plays trucks in his sandbox--it doesn't happen much lately. Today, however, the sun was narcotic. I couldn't pursue the chores I had planned.

                              The plum tree in full blossom--
                                    slower than this
                                          does not go.

      After a quick snooze on the chaise-lounge, though, I begin to hear the unmowed grass growing at my feet, and weeds overwhelming the herbs in the garden. All right, to work then!

                              Affliction of spring--
                              I have no time to admire.

Later in the afternoon:

                              My son, fishing the dry ditch
                                    for pretend fish,
                                          has drawn an audience
                                                of crows.

      Five hundred people attend the hearing. One man speaks of the fox he has seen trotting beside the river. A woman tells how geese fly right over the factory's smokestacks. Several speakers dwell on the children who run up and down the soccer fields in the shadow of the factory, while others discuss the epidemiological studies and laboratory tests, the evidence of lung disease and cancer. A woman roundly pregnant invokes seven future generations.
      Those few who talk in favor of the permit--all are men, as it happens, most of them in suits and ties--speak in the cliche of factuality. "There is no reason to believe that these glass fiber emissions constitute any threat to the health of the community." There is no reason to believe something huge isn't rolling over all of us.
      On my way home, to calm myself, I stroll among the gravestones--

                              The Big Dipper--
                              what's it pouring
                              down those smokestacks?

      The month of April is cold and rainy. Blossoms are blown off the cherry trees as quickly as they open. I hole up in the boiler room in the basement of the Courthouse, drawing planting designs for the annual flower beds, writing letters to the editor. In the brief interludes of sunshine, I mow the Courthouse lawns, exulting.

                              Ah, to be living in a land
                              where everything is strange--
                                          my home town after rain.

      On the first of May I plant pansies in the flower beds in front of the Courthouse. The soil is beginning to warm, my spade turns up fat earthworms. From the screen-roofed exercise-yard of the Gray Bar Hotel come shouts of some raucous ball game.

                              Passers-by stop and scowl
                                          at the sound of laughter
                                                      coming from the jail.

      The permit is granted. The factory begins to expand, growl a little louder. The air is lacerated. There are billions of glass fibers in it. I'm not leaving. Ever.

Charles Goodrich, Insects of South Corvallis, Cloudbank Books, 2007.