It was Lord begat the first investment.
From his hand, the original rock was thrown
and skipped — red sandstone — one rich instant.
It was the Lord’s — Eleazar Lord’s — ambition
that followed the stone
with tons of fill, that tried to stop the swirling current,
that extended the laws of dirt to river
until through simple repetition
a little island had grown.
And Lord could bestride his firmament.
“From here,” announced the prosperous maker,
“from a pier in the pull of the Hudson’s water,
a line shall emerge to unite our nation.
I will show what the will of man can do when dreams are sown
on earth, not in heaven. This will be my testament.”
After a decade of fill and flack
the pier covered something like ninety acres
and a single track ran down its center.
But even that gain, upon closer inspection,
turned out to be loss: the loans called back, and Lord alone
walking on water, pacing his earth, its faithful servant.
How the line to Lake Erie finally got built
was out of hunger — and on the freckled backs
of slave labor: Irish workers.
They laced the cracks in the mountains with powder
then ran for cover to behold the vision
of flaming sulfur and rock being blown
west to where the gold sun went.
Lord was old by the time it was finished
(the cove by the pier had filled with silt),
but when the first train rolled down the gleaming track
he (or was it Daniel Webster?) had himself strapped to a wooden rocker
and the rocker chained to an open car so that cinder
rained on the venerable founder like a benediction
sent from above. Ah, the unknown
ah, the unseen ah, the imagined made permanent.
As Lord rode west atop his success,
the world was both enlarged and diminished:
enlarged in the sense that the river was filled
but diminished by that much, too — packed
with lies about who did what, the crushed debris of failure.
One man’s dream buries another
which creates a momentum, an accumulation,
and on that wave you can skip like a stone
but only for one rich instant.
DANIEL WOLFF is a poet and author of the excellent biography of the great Sam Cooke, You Send Me, as well as the recent collection of Ernest Withers’ photographs The Memphis Blues Again. This poem originally appeared in the Spring 1990 edition of Three Penny Review.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org