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Canto the Fourth: Paradise

Published onApr 17, 2023
Canto the Fourth: Paradise
Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
— John Lewis1
But can't you even imagine what it must feel like to have a true home? I don't mean heaven. I mean a real earthly home. Not some fortress you bought and built up and have to keep everybody locked in or out. A real home. Not some place you went to and invaded and slaughtered people to get. Not some place you claimed, snatched because you got the guns. Not some place you stole from the people living there, but your own home, where if you go back past your great-great-grandparents, past theirs, and theirs, past the whole of Western history, past the beginning of organized knowledge, past pyramids and poison bows, on back to when rain was new, before plants forgot they could sing and birds thought they were fish, back when God said Good! Good! -- there, right there where you know your own people were born and lived and died. Imagine that, Pat. That place. Who was God talking to if not to my people living in my home?
— Toni Morrison, Paradise

BeltLine hopes, and dreams, are continuous actions,
Like stories told about the Champs Elysée,
Gogol’s Nevsky Prospekt, the Trans-Siberian’s
Railway line (and poem), and other great
Voyages that still inspire us today: Geoffrey
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Homer’s epic poem
Of Ulysses’ travels home, and Arthur Rimbaud’s
“Drunken Boat” that -- in its state -- can but roam

The seas, with no destination in sight. Travel
Of fictional heroes can seem psycho-
Logical, like Dante’s descent with Virgil
To the Inferno, his Purgatorio
Ascension, and his brilliant reunion
With Beatrice, in Paradiso.
Toni Morrison’s Paradise describes a ‘real Home’,
And not a “fortress” that’s so big, and so

Shut up, that it maintains everyone “locked in -- or
Out”. Real homes offer “freedom”, made of acts,
As John Lewis said, and “not a state”. In store
For George that day, as these and other facts
Ran through his mind, was certainly no place ‘locked in
Or out’; he was headed towards pathways
That are still to come, an Atlanta Rising2,
A City on the Verge3. For such forays

He’d ride his mountain bike, which was great for rough trails,
And bumpy, rocky paths. Since unfinished
Pathways to Paradise was his theme, he packed tales
Of heroism and undiminished
Hope, which served as inspiration, and helped tether
Him to history. He donned his best
Pink coat, a green turtleneck, fur-lined pants, leather
Shoes, a golden helmet, orange glasses,

Camouflage protective gloves (in case he was shot
From his saddle by uneven pathways),
And a velvet umbrella (just in case he’s caught
In a storm). To remain home on such days,
When rain, wind, -- and who knows what else! -- was foreseen
Would be to spoil his flaneur dreams. Nature,
When acting up, brings people together, ‘neath green
Foliage or grey overpasses, where creature

Comforts come in the form of shelter, rather than,
Say, velour couches (‘though George liked those too).
To find his ‘enchanted garden’, his own version
Of Paradise, he decided to voyage through
What’s called the situationniste international
Approach4 (loved by Ryan Gravel): ‘A moment of
Life, concretely and deliberately constructed
By the collective organization of

Unitary environment’, which would help seed a ‘free
Play of events’. To do this right, George would read
About Debord’s dérive5, a fancy way to be
Aware of new sensations, inspired
By novel terrains. Debord sought psycho-
Geo-graphical effects(!), a kind of trek
That does not imply a quest, or journey,
Or a stroll. The idea is to partake

In travels entirely without motive,
Or pursuit. This may lead us to suffer
Along the way, which makes Paradise an active
Pursuit, and renders such quests even tougher.
To prepare him for this rough ride,
George thought back to Josephine Baker’s savvy
‘Speech to The Nation’, since her words helped him decide
To embark on this trip: “You know I have

Always taken the rocky path. I never took
The easy One, but as I get older,
And as I knew I had the power and
The strength, I took that rocky path, and I
Tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted
To make it easier for you. I want you to
Have a chance at what I had. But I do
Not want you to have to run away to get it. 

And mothers and fathers, if it is too
Late for you, think of your children. Make it safe here
So they do not have to run away, for
I want for you and your children what I had”.6
Dante traveled all the way to Paradise,
And Josephine Baker went to Paris,
Because neither found their own worlds could suffice
When it comes to lofty goals -- like bliss.

The BeltLine tries, through pathways, to overcome strife
By linking trails that bind us. It’s better than,
Say, traveling to Hell, and back, to save a life,
Which is how the Divine Comedy began,
With Dante lost in a valley of despair. He was
Lucky, having met Virgil, who could
Lead him through a savage forest, because
Beatrice awaited his ascent. This is a good

Allegory of Atlanta: it had been a new
City of sprawl, that was searching for a line
To connect diverse neighborhoods, some thread to sew
A new future, and a plan to help us climb
To a Promised Land. This recalls the Place, that Toni
Morrison describes, where “my people”
Can, at last, discover home. So Paradise can be
This BeltLine, a kind of sacred steeple

On a level plane, with murals on it that act
As inspiration. They’re within our of reach
And so they act as guides, helping us to forge a pact
Between us, and their message. Artworks like these teach
Us to promote peace, and to impart
The desire for change. George saw this when swarms
Of passers-by would stop to admire BeltLine art,
An open-air museum for the people, which warms

Our hearts. In Don Juan, Byron bemoaned the yoke
Under which the Greeks struggled, and he writes
Of freeing them from Ottoman oppression. He spoke
Of glories lost, and gave a fortune to fight
For the causes of both freedom and liberty.
His poems reference Dante, who struggled en route
To Beatrice, and overcame adversity
To consummate his heavenly pursuit.

Byron recalls that for some people, Beatrice
Is a holy symbol, not a quest to please
His ‘mistress’. This is just a spiritual reach,
He says, a ploy to bring people to their knees
Rather than inspiring them to seek love, sky-high.
George (of course) took Lord Byron’s side, since his
Great BeltLine ride and chronicles were a far cry
From piousness, or anything we might all religious.

But this begs a question for readers who delight
In this tremendous quest: where is George’s
Beatrice, his special guide, who will bring him right
Down to Wonderland? Is George just here to forge
New relationships, far from some great heartbreak
Back in Quebec, or wherever else? Truth
Be told, he has not revealed all; he takes
Us on these trips by day, but at night uncouth

Voyages through Atlanta’s nightlife have helped him
Make new friends and, -- who knows?-- maybe a bit
Of loving too. In fact, his discoveries of late may trim
Future travel plans, and convince him to sit
Still, -- or stay. He has sought late-night conversations
With movers and shakers who’ve stood
Their ground, and helped forge the pathways and the stations
Of the BeltLine cross, people who could

Bring it all to life.7 They are great heroes of this story;
But sad tales forged Atlanta’s creation,
From blood and tears of Cherokee, Chattahoochee
And Creek tribes who suffered decimation.
William Sherman burned it down and then dashed,
Not counting on a Phoenix City to emerge
From capitulation, and a sea of ash.
Atlanta’s a terminus town that surged

From an excavation, and a note from some
Guy called Stephen Harriman, about a
Railway line. Where most cities have emerged from
Ports and seas and lakes and rivers, Atlanta
Was once a foothill, then defined by belts and strange
Names to mark them: Western and Atlantic, Macon
And Western, Atlanta and Lagrange,
And Georgia Railroad have been make’n

Tracks in this ‘City on the Verge’. To these, we can
Name others, built to shun congestion: the grand
Seaboard Air-Line Belt Railway, Atlanta &
West Point Belt Line, and the Louisville and
Nashville Railroad Belt. Mark Pendergrast tells his side
In great detail, while George, on his excursion,
Can but try to keep up, then document his ride
And tour. To learn all this is his version

Of Dante’s quest, that started in Inferno’s heat,
Purgatorio, and finally the perfection
He found in Paradiso. Our story repeats
These same themes, of descent and resurrection,
But in this case, it’s about Atlanta’s rising
From a troubled history, the great labors
To challenge barriers, and finally, a surprising
Pathway of hope for all our neighbors.

So here’s our George, all dressed-up and ready to go,
But held back by his investigations
Into great quests from the past, and his own will to know
What the BeltLine means, and the sensations
That it creates in those who explore it today.
It surely was time for him to make hay, and head
Southeast, there to pursue some motley ways
To fill his day, and, of course, to buy his bread.

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