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Canto the Second: Gates

Published onApr 17, 2023
Canto the Second: Gates
And where are they? and where art thou,
     My country? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now—
     The heroic bosom beats no more!
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?

’Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
     Though link’d among a fetter’d race,
To feel at least a patriot’s shame,
     Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear.
— Lord Byron, Don Juan Canto the third1
I’m not concerned with New Jerusalem. I’m concerned with the New Atlanta, the New Birmingham, the New Montgomery, the New South.
— Martin Luther King2

We’ve found a hero, who will take us on our jaunt.
He’s fun to be around, you’ll see, and feels
What we might think. He drags around Don Juan,
A tome that’s wise and witty, and he peels
From it rhymes and ditties, while taking it all
In. His namesake is notorious, and gorges
On life’s charms; our poet is more congenial –
Atlantans tend to be -- so we just call him George,

For BeltLine’s poetry. Our George is not ‘English born’
To use the term they use, but rather from
A colder place, a land of snow and ice. Lord Byron’s
From a line of rogues, from which he did claim some;
Our George came from Montréal, un-BeltLine-
Like (but fun). What’s he doing here, you ask,
In Georgia’s Peachy heat? He’s searching for some time
Away, and cool spaces in which to bask.

It’s great to find new hangouts, even ‘neath hot sun,
And for our friendly poet George, Georgia
Is a newfound land, like the mistress for John Donne3.
Time won’t stop for anyone, and sometimes sorta
Runs, so if our fate is to fall ill, and then to freeze
In death, there’s no point in staying still. Juan wandered
‘Round European haunts, from Spain and France to Greece,
Because he, though modest, had wondered

If he could love a married girl -- largely for her looks.
This was risky, since she’d never sever
Her marriage to an (old!) man (whom she loathed). Lust took
Them both, and Julia, who’d sworn she’d never
Consent-- consented. The lovers were caught, Julia
Was sent to a convent, and Juan had to flee.
Let’s follow him, not to Greece, but Piedmont Park, a
Great place to be, to read, to eat, to see,

And inspire new thoughts. George liked to wrought
His rhymes there: parks provide sabbatical,
Meals of edible flowers, and a perfect spot
To view orchids (for which he was fanatical).
From there he strolled to the tennis courts, and stayed
There for a time, to watch with awe
The ALTA4 folks, and wished that he had played,
Or jumped the fence, to enjoy what he saw

That day. He’d then take a break to shoot the shit, drink cool
Drinks, and show off his great wit. From there he
Strolled a winding path that ends up at the pool,
And though a child of colder climes, he’d see
His way through summer heat, and dreamed of lapping waves.
Cities can be bleak and stark, with concrete
And loud noise; so nature in a gorgeous park saves
Us from feeling bleak. The park was replete

With scents of pot, the sense of sisterhood, a wild
Cat, some hacky-sackers, and a small group
Of slackers near the little pond. Nearby a child,
Seated with his father, was staring at a troop
Of geese who’d floated up to see him. They egged
Him on, they hemmed and hawed, and madly
Flapped heir little wings. ‘Dad, can I go swim?’ he begged.
‘Of course you can’, said daddy, ‘if you want to badly!’

‘No dad’, he said, ‘I’ll get all cold. I want instead
To fly!’ ‘Then fly you must!’ his dad declared
And perched him on his broad shoulders. To tread
Through a park like this is why George prepared
This voyage, and this plan. Riches lie
Beyond walls, gates, freeways, and cement,
And peace grows when we create a new tie,
Just as pathways bust through impediments.

The BeltLine’s entrance approaching, George speeded
Up his pace, then jockeyed for a view:
A crowd of joggers had arrived, some depleted,
Some just starting out, all here to eschew
Their city lives in favor of discovery.
They were joined, of course, by lovers, walkers
Dancers, singers, strollers, dogs, (and very
Loving masters), mothers, fathers, and gawkers,

Who’d turn their heads to view the great parade of folks.
George could fit right in, everywhere he went,
Maybe through his boyish smile, and hosts of jokes
To appeal to all, and from wherever sent.
His features were youthful, his skin was taut, shaded
Neither black, nor white, nor brown, nor red,
Such that he would always blend right in. He dreaded
Strife in all its forms, and sought out unity instead.

Of medium height, and medium build, his hair of late,
Had turned an amalgam of tints, all tied
Up in a bush. This messiness helped to create
Connivances with passers-by, a real source of pride.
Clothing was his weakness – velvet, silk, and furry --
So even in the blazing heat he’d never stress,
Leaving to others concern, and fret and worry;
As to why he did this, is not for me to guess.

The crowd at the 10th Street entrance was loud, prattling
To the world. There’s nothing like such joyful glee
Captured in snippets, like a babbling
Brook of diverse currents, meeting up to greet
Midtown’s teeming center. A crowd creates
A small village, where everyone participates,
Then jostles and clamors to settle through debates,
The issues of the day, in whichever states:

“stay to the right baby” – “feel that too” – “it makes me
want to go there” – “head-up!” – “is the sycamore part
of the planting?” – “what up?” – “Pilates? Pilates!
Pilates”— “they don’t understand what I’m
trying to accomplish”— “on your left!” — “I say to
my mom you can’t say shit like that. That’s not
ok, I’m your own daughter” — “it seems like it’ll be
wobbly” — “so we did that and then the next

day” — “for sure!” -- “that’s definitely what it is though” –
“I like your shirt man! I appreciate
It. I love giving compliments” – “and?” – “I bought them
Two nightstands for my bed” — “He only has
one eye. He lost it doing glass art. Does he have a
glass eye?” – “man, that’s bullshit!” – “I think I lost
my” – “slow down dude!” – “I had not left the house” – “I just
want” – “don’t do that now, I swear” – “did you see that?”

The BeltLine, a happy place, begins with sad events:
A bicycle painted white, and Alexia
Hyneman5, fondly recollected by her friends
Who donned tears and cat whiskers in a
Ceremony recalling her sweet creative
Life. George bowed, read the RIP aloud,
And acknowledged that paths like this save
Lives. There’s protection to be found in crowds

Where each person is protected from vehicles
As that one, that had hurt a precious voice.
From there George walked amidst ‘Hense’s6 colors, which fill
The spaces that were once stark with a choice
Colors from a vibrant palette. People now came
From all directions, pounding pavement, or to pose
Astride art and nature, combined in the same
Sacred spaces as great murals, Quake Solo7,

And Tiny Doors8. George tumbled on, his stride now slowed
By feasts of colors, like Lupo’s ‘Raised by
Wolves’9, Paris on Ponce10, and friends babbling soft, and loud.
The poet Baudelaire saw the crowd as a sea,
A mass of wandering souls questing for a body
To inhabit. They’re like Dickens’ Marley,
Who offers Scrooge a chance to join humanity
Thanks to a long voyage to Christmas eve.

Our poet George was now deep in rumination,
And he gazed upwards to the summer sky,
While his thoughts focused on artistic creation.
And so he knelt down, as though to say
‘It’s time to bathe in rhythm, and in rhyme’. And so
A bath George took, not warm and wet, but in
Side the pulsating throng of multitudes. We grow
More comfortable when skin-to-skin,

Communing with our brethren. Isolation
Is the enemy of urban union,
For we find joy in sisterhood, and in creation,
And hence our quest for public communion.
Wanderers and flaneurs, automatistes and loud
Kids, sharing solitary and thought-filled dreams of
Acute intoxication when lost inside a crowd.
Baudelaire called these ‘feverish delights’, oft

Denied to those who lock themselves up in their homes,
Like mollusks in their shells. George loved to try
Seeking communion in the crowd, and so he’d roam
From face-to-face, smiling at each passer-by.
Baudelaire was right, he thought: What men call
Love is small, compared with this debauchery,
This divine prostitution of the soul, that gives all
Stranger’s recognition, and a friendly

Smile. There are a few poets who like this approach,
And therefore pay careful attention to
Everyone near them, no matter their station. They’ll broach
Ideas as a form of discussion where you
Hear surprising stuff, -- some creative some shocking--
But most outside the predictable stew
Of things we talk about. John Frere, who was inspiring
To Byron, has taught a lot to George, too:

“All sorts of people there were seen together,
 All sorts of characters, all sorts of dresses;
The fool with fox’s tail and peacock’s feather,
 Pilgrims, and penitents, and grave burgesses;
The country people with their coats of leather,
 Vintners and victuallers with cans and messes;
Grooms, archers, varlets, falconers and yeomen,
Damsels and waiting-maids, and waiting-women.

But the profane, indelicate amours,
The vulgar, unenlightened conversation
Of minstrels, menials, courtezans, and boors
(Although appropriate to their meaner station)
Would certainly revolt a taste like yours;
Therefore I shall omit the calculation
Of all the curses, oaths, and cuts and stabs,
Occasioned by their dice, and drink, and drabs.11

The sun was setting, and George’s knees were sore
From all the ‘bathing’ he was doing upon
The BeltLine’s ‘floor’. Time to head to Ponce Market for
Some food, and then some rest. But first, he’d run
To a bar, for to end this day with some wine
Seemed just the thing. He passed graffiti that said: ‘BE
THE CHANGE, and a little further on another sign
For Black Lives Matter, a mural, and a sea

Of words painted on the ground12. Artworks can create
Monuments to those who are no more,
Victims of violence and racism and hate:
Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor
-- And too many more -- all honored with regrets.
Public art, -- like murals, sculptures, music and dance --
Help create community, thought George, recalling debts
We owe -- and work to do. Lord Byron chanced

To change the world by liberating oppressed Greece
From Ottoman rule: ‘For standing on the
Persians’ grave, / I could not deem myself a slave’. He’s
A hero, who gave his life for freedom. “Its
Loss I do not lament; for to terminate my
Wearisome existence I came to Greece.
My wealth, my abilities, I devoted to
Her cause. Well, there is my life to her.13

From poetry to life and back is another
Kind of tour, and though he never lived to
See the fruits of his work, we view him as the mother
Of the Greece we know today. Byron, through
His donations to the cause, helped to support Greek
Struggles for liberty. And here George could see some
Works of heroes, like John Lewis, that help us pique
Interest in our past, passing, and to come14.

There was more to see before day’s end, as George sought
Justice and passion for, and in, great art.
‘He can cry’, he read, and ‘She can run the world’. ‘Ought
I’? thought George. ‘I’m moved by these words, my heart
Finds flowers of joy herein, I’ll honor them in rhyme!’
He cried. His wild gestures drew attention, and soon
Young children gathered ‘round him. ‘You’re the ones who climb
The mountains, seeking truth. You are the bloom

In the gardens we call hope.’


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