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Canto the Eighth: The Holy Grail

Published onApr 17, 2023
Canto the Eighth: The Holy Grail
When night falls on the City of a Hundred Hills, a wind gathers itself from the seas and comes murmuring westward. And at its bidding, the smoke of the drowsy factories sweeps down upon the mighty city and covers it like a pall, while yonder at the University the stars twinkle above Stone Hall. And they say that yon gray mist is the tunic of Atalanta1 pausing over her golden apples. Fly, my maiden, fly, for yonder comes Hippomenes!
— W.E.B. Dubois2
Men who are rich enough and who are sufficiently free from anxiety with regard to their wealth can and do provide places of this needed recreation for themselves…. The enjoyment of the choicest natural scenes in the country and the means of recreation connected with them is thus a monopoly, in a very peculiar manner, of a very few very rich people. The great mass of society, including those to whom it would be of the greatest benefit, is excluded from it. In the nature of the case private parks can never be used by the mass of the people in any country nor by any considerable number even of the rich, except by the favor of a few, and in dependence on them.
— Frederick Law Olmsted3
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
— MLK’s Letter from Birmingham, Alabama jail, April 16, 1963.4

George woke up on this, the final day of wandering
The BeltLine, with some degree of joy,
And lots of nostalgia. He’d been meandering
For 22 miles, transformed into 8 cantos, and boy
Was he inspired! He dressed up fancy, plundering
His wardrobe for clothing with a knightly feel, since his ploy
Was to finish the loop, and thus complete his quest
Before settling down to write, and rest.

His magical travels had had brought him all around
Atlanta, where he’s garnered images of social
Justice through connectivity. He also found
Out that wond’rous natural settings, so crucial
To our mental health, abound in--and surround--
This city of trees and hills. It’s pretty unusual
To be in a place where we can find “relief from
Ordinary cares”, or have access in a city to some

Way to connect “the deepest sublimity”
With “the deepest beauty of nature”. Frederick Law
Olmstead had sought these kinds of unions when he
Designed Atlanta’s parks and neighborhoods. He saw
That a change of air, and “change of habits”, give us relief
From “ordinary cares”. For him, “natural scenes” draw
Us to healthy lifestyles, providing us with “pleasure
For the time being”, while developing our “capacity for

Happiness and the means of securing happiness.”5
George loved these ideas, and believed that in fact,
As Olmstead said, we all need proper access
To natural scenes, lest we all be taxed
With mental weakness that’ll inhibit our success,
And create a kind of “melancholy”
That “softens” the brain(!), and “diminishes our force”.
George had always loved to feel his blood course

Through his veins, so he’d peddled and strolled and skated
The entire BeltLine, deranging his senses,
And searching for… what? What had he created,
And to what end had he explored? The many fences
That had been dismantled, and the many pathways debated,
Have provided a sense of purpose, from whence
He’d drawn inspiration. George had also mentioned
Great journeys from the past, and had a penchant

For quests, old and new, so today he’d packed Salman Rushdie’s
Novel, Quichotte, which describes Ismail, a salesman,
Who takes a Picaresque trip through America. Ismail sees
A world where “the surreal, or even
The absurd”, offer “accurate descriptors of real
Life”.6 He hopes to win the heart of Salma, an Indian
-American talk show host, so it’s a quest for hope,
And love, in a world of trash TV. As George groped

His way around the BeltLine, Rushdie was attacked,
And lines between reality and fiction were
Crossed, as though one is the other’s double. Racked
By sorrow, George honored the injured author,
And sought to complete his quest with stories packed
With gallantry and courtesy. He thought of King Arthur,
And those valorous quests for justice, loyalty,
Piety, bravery, and gentility.

Knights of the Round Table include King Arthur,
Lancelot, Percival and Gawain, so George’s clothing
Today would be knightly. He began with a blue fur
Collar (something he thought indispensable), a huge pink ring,
Yellow socks, striped red and green pants, a mauve his-her
Scarf, a green velvet hood, and an oversized fluorescent pink
Jacket. He wanted to ride a horse, but instead chose a mountain
Bike, because this part of the BeltLine would contain

Uneven trails, unfinished bits, but also
A glorious finale at the luscious Piedmont
Park. As he mounted, George thought of Perceval, who
Sought adventure and truth. Others might want
Comfort, but Perceval swore he’d never “spend two
Nights in a row in any Lodging, or hear of any
Strange voyage and not test its strangeness,
Or learn of a worthy Knight, or pair of knights,

Without offering to fight them. All this, until
He knew for whom the grail7 had been borne and
Until he'd found the bloody Lance and understood
Why it bled”.8 George also recalled Gawain, who’d stand
Up to any warrior, was a defender of the poor, a good
Friend to young knights, and someone who would always band
Together with women to protect their honor.
Gawain suited today’s quest since nothing would deter

Him from finishing what he had started:
“I didn't come here to turn back:
Whoever might want to call me
A coward could certainly do so,
If I started in this direction,
Then turned around and went back.
I'll keep to this road, by God,
Until and unless I'm stopped”.9

George would keep these words close since, like a Knight,
He craved honor and glory and, like an Atlantan,
He wanted to attend a festival tonight
In Piedmont Park! He just might, like Atalanta,
Pause over some golden apples, or he might fight
For a place in some lineup for food, since he was kinda
Hungry already-- and he hadn’t even begun
His final quest! He knew that he’d already won

A place in the annals of BeltLine fashion, but
Today he’d try to best himself, and be
Gallant (and fun to look at). He did cut
A fine figure as he set out to see
How to connect the many paths that jut
Out from Bitsy Grant Tennis Center -- where he
Started -- and the many lovely trails that he
Found in Collier Hills. He’d go on to Peachtree

Hills, the Lindbergh Center, then down towards Ansley
Golf Club, and the Gardens. At the Louise G.
Park, George stopped to admire a Little Free Library
And found therein no Knights of the Round Table, so he
Left one of his own dog-eared copies, wrenched free
From his knapsack. The day was warm, and all the trees
Had begun to change to autumn colors. He could hear
Peachtree Paddle players and pickle-ball picklers near

By, clamoring for winning shots and shouting out
Both victory, and painful loss. He thought
Of Olmstead’s plea for public beauty as his route
Led past a plaque for Stacey Kessler, who brought
The Memorial Gardens to life. George had read about
Her philanthropy, and knew that she’d taught
Ballet after a professional career.
From there, he followed Woodward Way, near

The Peachtree Creek to the Northwest BeltLine
Connector. He was going in circles, like
A Knight in search of a grail, or perhaps a fine
Lunch. It was so beautiful there, and since his bike
Was made for rough terrain, he’d take his time
And wind through streets and pathways, then hike
Up towards Peachtree Station. He felt
That even if this particular section of the Belt-

Line was not complete, he still should ride along
Side train tracks, which he did in Brookwood Hills,
Not far from SCAD. He was singing a song
Out loud, since he was near Sherwood Forest, where he still
Dwelled: “Robin Hood and Little John walkin' through the forest
Laughin' back and forth at what the other has to say
Reminiscin', this-n-thattin', havin' such a good time
Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day!”

The song described great adventures, and a test:
“Robin Hood and Little John runnin' through the forest
Jumpin' fences, dodgin' trees an' tryin' to get away
Contemplatin' nothin' but escape an' finally makin' it
Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day!10
Not a very chivalrous song, but it’s filled with wit
And adventure that reminded George of today’s ride.
Biking along the tracks he was barely able to keep the side

From swallowing him up, and the path he followed
Was made of fist sized stones. He approached a great
Overpass, painted with graffiti and plastered
With signs suggesting that passers-by “eat dirt”. He’d hate
To disappoint whoever had posted them there, but figured
That it would be the thought that’d count. He’d wait
Until later, when he’d meet up with a friend and try
To recount his trip. An artwork caught his eye,

As he drove on. It was a Ghosttown mural, by
Mister Fang11, that was fun and exuberant.
Who needs food (or dirt)? thought George. Art’s why
I’m so prone to stray! He then saw Kaos12 Burnunit
Who’d splashed great colors and shapes for passers-by,
More painted ghosts, and a blue dog saying “It’s
Alive!” George followed along, past Vayne UTL REM13
In bright colors. Our chivalrous Knight George thought them

So powerful that he had difficulty continuing his quest.
He connected to a dirt pathway that led
Towards Ansley Golf Club, which was strewn with the rest
Of what once was railway tracks that once fed
The country with goods from Atlanta. The best
Recycling is reuse, of course, and instead
Of lying here as trash they now pointed the way
Towards a Holy Grail: a BeltLine, that one day

Would create, “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”.14
That was MLK’s vision: a world built on truth
And unconditional love, challenging those who say “nope,
It can’t be done in our lifetime”. Yes, it can, in sooth,
And George could feel that today, as his battered tires groped
Towards his final destination. He would fight, tooth
And nail for MLK’s dreams, and the Beloved Communities
That can be erected on great pathways. He’s

Atlanta’s knight, is MLK, along with those
Who fight with honor and with love. These words are swords
For gallant battles, these the lance that Gawain chose
To seek, these the real grail that lead us towards
An America of justice, and of care. George now rose
Up on his peddles to survey the path ahead. His words,
Dictated to his chronicles later that night, would burst
With optimism and delight, but first

The final stretch of this amazing ride, through dense
Vegetation near his destination: Piedmont Park.
The trail, still incomplete, forced him to sneak around fences,
Splash through muddy paths, traverse pebbles and bark,
And on towards Orpheus Brewing. If a reader senses
That this will be his destination, when it’s dark,
I would imagine that she’s quite perceptive.
George was feeling uplifted, and was ready for festive

Celebrations of the loop he’d conquered, and described.
He slowed his bike, and took a pause at the Exhibitat15,
A bird-friendly demonstration garden imbibed
With love and hope by the Georgia Native Plant Society that
Promotes the grown of wildflowers, and grass. We’ll survive
And thrive by such work, thought George, if the habitat
That we call home emulates Olmstead’s vision,
And MLK’s dreams. George’s final mission

Brought him next to the Clear Creek Watershed, and onward
Into his beloved Atlanta Botanical Garden --
Completing his quest. This sanctuary for bird
Lovers, children, families, lovers, dreamers, drifters and friends
Was such a welcome sight! He then headed toward
The Park where he removed his pack, descended
From his bike, and celebrated the scene
That lay before him -- with a grin (and a gin?!). He’d been

On his quest for how long now? Many months, perhaps, or years?
It’s a number that can be measured by beers, and
Pleasures turned to lines. In the park he saw, through tears
Of joy, a friend he’d met one day, a man
Who roller skates, sings, and gives high fives to all near
Him. Further on, a fortune-teller, someone
Selling birds, a golden retriever who seemed to
Be trying to climb a tree… what was he after? Who

Was up there, in that tree, inviting him to survey the park?
And did those four boys on skateboards, each an
Instrument in hand, play music after dark?
Or were they already playing? Some joggers ran
Near them, were they fans? or were they just there on a lark,
Looking to grow their cardiac endurance? We can
Try to imagine the many lives brought together in this place
And dream that their objective for the human race

Is decency, kindness, love, compassion, sharing,
And being together in public spaces.
Sharing these connections is a way of caring
For everyone. Public spaces are not reserved, like private places,
Only for the privileged few. The daring
That created the BeltLine, and graces
Each mile of this emerald necklace, will not fail,
For its objective is Atlanta’s Holy Grail.

“Peace” Is the Holy Grail, “Love” is the Holy Grail.
“Beloved communities” are the Holy Grail.
A “society at peace” is the Holy Grail.
The “presence of Justice” is the Holy Grail.
The “affirmation of peace” is the Holy Grail.
“Justice”, “Peace” and “Righteousness” are the Holy Grail.
“Peace on earth” is the Holy Grail.
George knelt down and kissed the ground. This is his

Holy Grail.

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