Ballad and Proposition

after Alice Oswald

Take away my engine and I shall engineless go
to find you. Take away my bees
and I will flowerless walk the vectors of sweet
nothings until I’m face to face with Monsanto.

In my doomed town where small mechanic skills
make the evenings strung out and shrill
with compressors and vapors, I listen for crows
and wrens to overdub our nation’s ills

which are forgetting and further forgetting
so I don’t recognize my hand,
the length of rope, the knot, the limb
I throw it over, the aid and abetting

of the body, the shadow spans from Senegal
to my doomed town where Mrs. White
cuts off a limb that drops its intractable
leaves in menacing random and illegal

patterns on her lawn. The proposition
is to each cut off a limb, a sacrifice to prevent
destructions more terrible in the future
as did the Sioux. Because I lack imagination

somebody, a Christ, a boy in custody, dies
each evening. Three days wait and I forget
the undertaking, the uprising, that way
of life with redemption. I forget the lies

modified by art. I forget the ongoing
story of love tending toward catastrophe,
the oblique, gaped, murderous corridos
ending in the underworld and unknowing.

Copyright © 2017 Bruce Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017