To England

On this Independence Day, Places salutes our British and American readers.

Matchbox and contents. [Photo by Trevira]

To islands and the elements in all their desperation.
To lowlands giving on sea-riddled shingles.
There is no knowledge in the world for the rain to draw its curtains on.
To ancientness, to caprice, to that seething past
of no foregone conclusions, after which the one eventuality
will be a miracle. To greening and to bloodying.
To the ascendance of the ascendant.
To the Jutes, to Angles and the Saxon knife-bearers
at loggerheads, to the only land there is to dispute,
to the embroidered traceries of history
where all presence wants its mandate.
Hundred-hand horses chalked on the hillsides
graze the sparse seasons, standing invisible in the snow,
standing stark in the autumns, no giant come yet
to break them. And sheepdogs at their long-bred artistry
jostle the flocks in the meadows.
To the gauge of the yarn. To the teeth on the handsaws.
To the sizes of the dowries and the direction of the transaction.
To temper, appetite, and taste.
To apparent understanding.
As if humanity were celestial, the unfolding of events
need not suffer anyone to make sense of it.
To canals and river traffic, to wherries, lighters,
to brigs, to sea. To dreadnoughts, capital,
the dot-dot-dash of the nation’s bidding, to coal-soot
camouflaging the moths on the tree-trunks.
A Cornish miner upturns his blackened face in the candlelight
and unwraps a pasty. The candle becomes carbide, Cornwall becomes California,
the carbide becomes an electric lamp, the pasty becomes a pasty.
To Quakers in the Delaware Valley. To Virginian Cavaliers,
and East Anglians in New Haven who would hang a boy for wanking.
To the New: York, Hampshire, Jersey, London, England.
The bridge is still falling down on playgrounds in Hawaii.
The children are still pocketing charms.
Ashes, ashes. To customs’ stunning desertion of their authors.
Inheritance is burrs clinging to one’s clothes
in the temperate woods of North America.
The European beech on the Lexington Green bears upward on its purple boughs
the carved pairings of a summer day
in alphabet-juju cribbed from the Romans. I in my jotting ape
the apers of an out-of-favor scribe posted among the Britons.
I in my utterance am your interpreter posted
to an inconsequential province like Connecticut.
To the Concord Minuteman at the Old North Bridge,
never again to put down the plough or musket,
prepared for something’s sake to turn against his own,
my noble savage, my dying Gaul,
steady in his embrace of treason.
In Valley Forge hang the smells of typhus,
dysentery, and fried dough. At Amritsar the rounds pierced
four people at a time, like tines in a jar of olives.
To these places, too, if
I did not think I hoisted you with your own petard,
if my occluded sympathies could tell the fluttering pigeon
in the claws of the hawk on the neighbor’s porch
from a stillbirth in Australia.
To the scholarship you gave my mischievous mother,
who skipped home past the rubber trees with the accents
of the Irish nuns in her head,
and called a macaque a nincompoop.
To either tear from one’s self all
the sordid alliances of earth,
of that post-Babel scrum I wanted no part of,
to burn away the qualities I would have liked to call my own,
or my gentle father’s, or my gentle grandfather’s,
or my town’s, or the race’s,
and not England’s. Or to master them,
and not find them wanting, and run the mind’s trembling hand
over that seething past having one,
miraculous eventuality, and know at every juncture what I felt:
hide, hair, grass, joinery, beech bark, coin, the page, lace,
ivory, gunwales, pudding, mortar, glass. To neither one,
to the impossibility of both, a Bronx cheer,
sparklers, a bottle of root beer in each hand, to England, Salut.

Editors' Note

“To England” was originally published in Prairie Schooner, Spring 2008. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

D.H. Tracy, “To England,” Places Journal, July 2011. Accessed 09 Dec 2022. <>

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