Imperialism in Pleasantville, N.J.

by Robert Gibb

Summer in the fifties’ now-merged blur. One of my cousin’s
navy father’s stateside posts: coastal and near enough to
Pittsburgh that we’re visiting. What I remember mostly,
tagging along, are sidewalks and fences and cloistered lawns,
one block the same as another. What I remember mostly is
the presence of trouble surfacing steadily in the boy we met,
the neighborhood tough who menaced us with a handful
of dog shit, threatening to tar us with its feculence and stench.
Neither of which bothered him at all. What he held, he held
over us, a carrier immune to what he carried. And unlike
Thoreau, who wondered what life might look like, reduced
“to its lowest terms,” he’d already seized the worst those
treed streets had to offer, himself their “genuine meanness.”
It’s probably unfair to equate all this—shit, death, the anal-
expulsive bullying—with my cousin’s father and some ugly
clamped-down aspects of the military mind, but I do.
What I remember is being run off at last without a fistfight
or the laying on of hands: “Don’t let me catch you around
here again.” All this is mine, he was saying, as if the foulness
he’d cupped were ambergris the sea had rendered up.

Robert Gibb’s books include The Origins of Evening (1997), which was a National Poetry Series winner. Among his other awards are two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry, and a Pushcart Prize. A new book, After, winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize (Mark Doty, judge), was published this coming spring.

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