If Poets Had Conquered America (w/. Martin Ott)

The voyage would have started with meted
rigging, papyrus sails, iambic rowers,

two dozen arms beating hexameter couplets
past Skyllas, krakens, their parents’ distaste

for “the airy trade.” They would have landed
on shores expanding freely with verse, each

tongue a new state, newly forgotten zeppelins
tethered to clouds. The first winter would be

the easiest, inaugurated by an impromptu salon,
voices teeming with game and fresh rhymes,

all tribes’ verbal missiles striking dear hearts
cleanly in the back of a log-beamed cafe.

That was before the seven-year cycle
of cicadas, poison berries, wolf howls,

before they mistrusted freedom, sought
out Petrarchan sonnets. Factions grew

into factories, formalists on the workshop
line grinding out sestinas in sausage casings.

Others fled ivory forts, running woodsward,
darning leatherstocking Language in camps.

A second generation of bards and lyricists
emerged via Atlantean tubes and purgatorial

paths, erecting concrete poems into freeway
obelisks and tame topiary dragons. Aiming

up and out, astropoeticists scanned the ether,
recasting each constellation as a sudoku haiku.

They powered their nation with chant-propelled
windmills and learned that words were a force

that could bring buds bursting forth or fill
rockets with Beowulf, Inferno, annihilation.

Every syllable a crossroads, they sang forth
a national anthem Mahabharatan in scale,

a stanza per citizen, a continent in constant
renewal, something to write home about.