on sewage

Pulled Kerouac’s Dharma Bums off the shelf today because I’ve been thinking about how to write about climbing mountains and I believe his description of climbing Matterhorn was the first I’d ever read of the activity.  I’ve read Dharma Bums a few times, but it’s been many years.  Before heading up the mountain, Kerouac uses the journey’s preparations as a means of introducing Japhy Ryder, his character based on Buddhist poet Gary Snyder, and in it, I came across this:

Japhy was considered an eccentric around the campus, which is the usual thing for campuses and college people to think whenever a real man appears on the scene—colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middle-class non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness to hear the voice crying in the wilderness, to find the ecstasy of the stars, to find the dark mysterious secret of the origin of faceless wonderless crapulous civilization.  “All these people,” said Japhy, “they all got white-tiled toilets and take big dirty craps like bears in the mountains, but it’s all washed away to convenient supervised sewers and nobody thinks of crap any more or realizes that their origin is shit and civet and scum of the sea.  They spend all day washing their hands with creamy soaps they secretly wanta eat in the bathroom.”

And it reminded me of a poem that I wrote while I was training for my DC ride.  I’ve shared it on MySpace before, but I really like it, so thought I would share it on here too.  I wrote it while stopped on a bench near the wastewater treatment wetlands just off the MKT trail outside of town here.  Columbia pumps its sewage and wastewater into these vast lagoons built in the old, nearby,  Missouri River floodplain.  Apparently cattails and various other tall grasses and whatnot planted in these things treat the wastewater through naturally occurring microbes, and then it gets pumped into the Eagle Bluffs area and mixes in with all those streams and creeks and rivers flowing into, and occasionally out of, the big river.  The swampy grassland attracts birds by the hundreds, and riding the section of MKT contiguous to one of these lagoons–prompting masses of wary birds into brilliant swarms of temporary relocation—inspires awe, laughter, and occasionally, tears.

It is also a uniquely aromatic place.  And when the wind is just so—not too strong, just gently blowing—and the humidity makes the air sluggish and stubborn as it often does here in Missouri, the odor can choke.  So, without further ado, I give you:

An Address from the Refuge

My fellow citizens,
I am sitting, now, so near the filth
of our collected leavings—
the final resting place of your most intimate moments—
the refuge of our sewage treatment wetlands—
that there is no telling whose microbes
are mingling and collecting in my nasal cavity
this very moment: and whose I may later
pick away from my nostril’s perch, or whose
will find its way oozing down my throat
to collect in the mucus I sometimes hack back up.

It is a uniquely civilized moment;
and I wonder is it the greater appetite
of some community leader
that wafts its way, more pungent than the rest
to the place I sit down wind?
Where the words of their mouth have called
men and women together to community action
back in town, does the product of that
other end of them, here give out the strongest
warning to turn back and return to the bosom
of our fair and sanitary city?
And is it not heroic—in the nose of these warnings—
to press on?

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2 Responses to “on sewage”

  1. Kady Says:

    I love how he says, ” Lost me juju beads in the woods.” One of my favorite books and Japhy somehow reminds me of the lovely Gary Snyder.

  2. Kady Says:

    Ha! I did not read your first paragraph closely enough, you already made the connection of Japhy and Gary. 🙂

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