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Canto the Seventh: Improvisation

Published onApr 17, 2023
Canto the Seventh: Improvisation
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”1
There never was a man, be he Christian or Saracen or Tartar or Heathen, who ever travelled over so much of the world as did that noble and illustrious citizen of the City of Venice, Messer Marco the son of Messer Nicolo Polo.
— Marco Polo2
No daughter of the sun is my Muse,
Neither does she have a guitar adorned with gold or ebony.
She’s a coarse country maid who likes to go singing in the open air…. 
But she sings to be happy and to make whoever hears her happy. She neither knows nor cares about any rule whatsoever….
— Niccolò Forteguerri , Il Ricciardetto3

George woke up feeling better, in the sense that he knew
Up from down, left from right, and where he’d been
The night before. Traveling on the BeltLine drew
Him to explore new places, and he was keen
To learn about Atlanta’s many neighborhoods too,
And not just the Emerald Necklace. He has seen
A lot, and read great poetry along the way,
But he usually traveled on well-worn paths, afraid

That his wandering mind might throw him off course,
Or blind him to his original plan.
Like Byron, he suffered from distraction, worse
Even than his namesake. This morning George began
To think that it would take all his strength, and all his force,
To bring him to the end of his trip. He ran
The risk of stopping there, near the end of his voyage,
To celebrate what he’d done. He needed courage

To keep on going because now he’d have to make
It up, since this part of the BeltLine is still a draftsman’s dream
Rather than a fait accompli. He’d have to take
Developers’s word, that neighborhoods that seem
Fixed in time and space will change, so people can partake
In jaunts and strolls just like the many streams
Of people who enjoy the more developed trails
Do. To think that all this started as a bunch of rails!

Byron’s right, of course, as he tends to be, that
People have strange abilities, work seeking out:
“Man’s a phenomenon, one knows not what,
    And wonderful beyond all wondrous measure;
‘Tis pity though, in this sublime world, that
    Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure;
Few mortals know what end they would be at,
    But whether glory, power, or love, or treasure,

The path is through perplexing ways, and when
The goal is gain’d, we die, you know — and then —
What then? — I do not know, no more do you —
    And so good night.—Return we to our story”.
This story, of the Northwest Trail, is still so new
As to be almost unwritten. George’s glory,
If poets can aspire to such lofty heights,
Would be to find the right path, then sell the rights

To all the developers. This wasn’t worth his while,
Although an infusion of cash could go
A long way to upgrading his already wild
Wardrobe! Since he’d be on a quest with no
Pathway to guide him, George needed some style,
Which of course meant that today he’d throw
Caution to the wind and use his inline skates.
He used to take them everywhere, especially on racy dates

With athletic types. That was a while back, when he
Was younger, and so today he’d pack, in addition to
Those sexy wheels, some elbow pads (pink and green), knee
Pads (orange and purple), shin pads (silver and blue),
Shoulder pads (black and gold), and at least three
Layers of padding on his posterior. From experience he knew
That one little bump in the road could throw him for a loop,
Which scared him. He liked fame, but didn’t want to be a scoop

For some anxious Atlanta Journal Constitution
Reporter (on second thought, maybe that would be
A pathway to literary fame!). His position
In the world was important to him, of course, but he
Was averse to suffering, and all the derision
That can come of being hurt. He wanted to see
This project to the end, and not be confined to
A hospital bed. So he brought out his gorgeous blue

And white helmet, a remnant from his Québec days,
And put it on nice and tight. He left his midtown lair,
And skated through the numbered streets, and to the maze
Of roads around Peachtree Park Drive. There
He’d head to Bennett Street, and find some way
To access the Westside Trail at Huff Road, right where
Marietta Boulevard traverses past
The Hemphill Water Treatment Plant and, at last,

Howell Mill Road. After arriving there he needed to rest,
And he remembered that inside of his backpack
He had some treats. He thought it a good idea to test
Whether he was sufficiently sober to go back
To a little day drinking, which he loved. For this behest,
He’d packed a little bit of gin, some chips to snack
On, and anchovy-stuffed olives. This pause
Was also the perfect time to sink his claws

Into his favorite book about exotic
Journeys: The Travels of Marco Polo.
George fancied himself a voyager, but he was quick
To admit that his trips couldn’t compare (though
Montreal to Atlanta is no small feat!). The trick
Was to find places where Marco Polo had not been. So
Many books describe his tours, although to be fair,
If it wasn’t for Rusticello da Pisa, those who care

About Marco’s life would never know where he went.
The list is very long, of places where we know
He traveled to. Rusticello, a writer, was hell-bent
On telling all the stories of his fellow
Inmate, since both of them had been sent
To prison during a war with Genoa. We know
A lot about Marco from these accounts,
But some are far-fetched, so we can’t be sure what amount

Of them are true. Who cares? We do know that Marco
Was a brave fellow who, without a GPS
Or an electric bike, traveled to, and fro,
Across barren lands, vast deserts, and treacherous
Terrains from Europe and Iran, the Mongol
Lands, then India, China and Tibet. We know less
About some of the places he visited because he
Didn’t take copious notes, unlike what we

Have from George! – Still, today’s Northwest BeltLine ride
Would be short on detail because the trail
Was still being built. George set out, skated along the side
Of roadways, crossed Northside Drive, and then sailed
Under the I-75. He followed Tanyard Creek, and almost died
When he lost his balance, then just avoided being impaled
By a stick, jutting out from a telephone pole!
He recovered, barely, but then spent a whole

Hour trying to figure out where the route would
Go next, as he winded and twisted towards
The Bobby Jones Golf Course. This route could
Not be compared to Marco’s, who traveled to hoards
Of exotic places, and foretold a good
Deal of exploration. Nonetheless, words
Strung together into lines, and connected by rhyme,
Are in themselves voyages through space and time.

For Marco Polo’s travels, we have Rusticello’s
Version of events, a kind of piecing
Together of places that he learned about from his fellow
Cellmate; for the BeltLine’s northwest quadrant -- putting
Aside the fact that the new parts have to burrow
Through existing ‘hoods -- there was negotiating
That had to be done to ensure community
Input. Trails created with total impunity

Can DO the damage that the BeltLine’s trying to UN-do,
So lots of effort had to be made to
Support Bennett Street, Bankhead and English Avenue,
As well as business districts with a few
Great black-owned businesses. So these two
Great projects, one from history, one that’s due
To be completed in 2030, share
Surprising connections, and link a pair

Of travelers – Marco and George – who spring as much
From our imaginations, as from real
Life. But travels, and chronicles thereof, have such
A great effect because their trips appeal
To our desire for exotic adventures. Marco Polo touched
Millions of people through his stories, and a great deal
Of things he did still surprise us today.
His Le devisament du monde4 relays

Details about the first trip by a European
To China, (and back). He’s also known
For introducing noodles to Italy, spaghetti
To China, and for details about the throne
And rule of the Mongol Great Khan Qubilai,
The Mongol postal relay system, and some
Things about trade in horses across the Arabian
Sea. As George wandered about, bein’

His usual adventurous self, he wondered if,
700 years from now, some curious
Poetry lover, or urban planner, might sift
Through his BeltLine Chronicles with serious
Intentions, like figuring out the next best gift
To give his lover. George will have to hurry us
To our final destination, though, so as to complete
His contribution to wanderers’ tales. For him to compete

With the likes of Rusticello, however, he’d
Have to get working on introducing new treats,
Like Marco Polo did with noodles and spaghetti.
George stopped and removed his skates. His feet
Were getting really sore, and after this long day he was ready
To explore some specialties, and to greet
Another great Atlanta evening. At Loring
Heights Park, he thought about exploring

Atlanta’s storied old neighborhoods. Tonight
He could devote to tasting typical Georgian foods, like fried
Chicken, chili dogs, chicken wings, and hash browns. He might
Have chicken and waffles with Coca Cola, or try
Some great Korean place on Buford Highway, or a bite
Of Chinese take-out. He had spoken to a guy
About soul food the other day, and since tomorrow
Was his final leg, he’d need something to allay the sorrow

Of completing his magical Atlanta tour.
Black-eyed peas, cornbread, collard greens, mac and cheese,
Sweet potato pie, banana pudding and more
Delicious fried chicken— these would please
His lust for the cuisine that African Americans bore
With them on 'The Great Migration'. He’s
Starving now, our poet George, thinking of all
These wonderful options. Let’s leave him make the call

For tonight’s meal, and catch him back here for
His final chronicle, a trip that will bring him back
To Piedmont Park. This will complete his tour,
But I would guess that he’ll search and search, and pack
His bags again for more adventures. In his core,
George is the Marco Polo type who will rack
His brains for new excuses to pack his luggages,
And new poetry to fill starving blank pages

With poetic verses all bound up in rhyme.

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