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Odes to the Internal Combustion Engine
Paul Gagnon

I: Internal Combustion Engine

it must be that all things fall apart
die flaming
or just die.

or so said some wise man
Lao Tzu, Buddha, or Jesus
some great walker
          who knew the purpose of the feet
is to shed the rest of the body
of its sorry destinations
          who knew that the great machines
revving on the edge of apocalypse
will have their day
cough steam, backfire
and perish
          knew that the natives would
take back the engine
in both steel and name, arriving
by the thousands
to claim their cupfulls of rusted
Detroit, to repossess
their sons:

Pontiac, Cadillac,
Dakota, Cherokee.

Son, said the old man,
I am trying to tell you a three-quarters truth here.
I am trying to tell you that Jesus walked on
the moon, Sea of Tranquillity, that
he hopped space junk
in the upper atmosphere
until he achieved lunar orbit,
son, I am telling you to walk lightly
take nothing with you that you don’t need
shuck yourself of everything from the feet upward
become your own traveling song.


 II: Infrastructure

When Yen Hui asked Master Kung
What is the Tao?, the old master
laughed and said

someday they will build a carriage that runs on coal
someday they will build catapults to travel across the sea
someday I will walk out this door using my own feet
and not return.

          everyone in the world will call for me
but I will not answer. they will saccharin their words
but I will not answer. they will prepare a bed of artificial blossoms for me
but I will not answer. they will build roads to reach me
but I will not be at the end of them. they will build bridges across great rivers
which I did not swim.

And Yen-Hui asked,
          "What is a Drive-thru, master?"
"Perpetual hunger!"
          "What is an Interstate, master?"
"The gnashing of teeth at 5 p.m.!"
          "What is an SUV, master?"
"The horse of family values!"


III: Destinations

when you reach the National Park
make sure to
carry in carry out
don’t feed the bears
be careful with forest fire
park in designated areas
don’t swim when the lifeguard is not on duty
don’t pick wildflowers

teach your children well
as ghosts of Kiowa squaws
harvest piniõn, burn trees
shit in the woods

take less than centuries
to hitch-hike home.


IV: Fuel

when the great plumes
rose over Kuwait
we knew what we had done

our legless god billowing out
a thousand leagues
over An Nafūd.


V: Freedom of the Open Road

we sucked hard at the straw
and called it freedom

this engine of open road.

let us bless it like a baby
          cradled in a Michelin tire
siphon the universe for it

grind the Desert into desert
with all four wheels and hell yes

death to all those fanatics who would steal
our hubcaps.