Julian Dibbell on Mon, 2 Feb 1998 08:47:26 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> The East River Catechism

The East River Cathechism
By Julian Dibbell

In accordance with the people's will as expressed in the latest directive
from the central committee (and also, sincerely, as a token of gratitude
for all the gifts of wit, wisdom, and crankiness the list has sent my way
as I've sat here on my skinny white ass lurking for the last 12 months), I
hereby submit one poem, recently composed and never before published,
touching upon certain false distinctions made between the biological and
the technological.=20

Apologies offered in advance for the local references (though it should be
enough to know that the East River of the title separates the island of
Manhattan, where I live, from the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens), as well
as for the lack of references to anything digital. None offered for the
creeping mysticism. Underscores (_like so_) are meant, of course, to
substitute for italics.

Here follows the poem:

By Julian Dibbell

_And if you can believe the one about_
_The single cells who got together on the Burgess Shale_
_Six hundred million years ago_
_To make their way to New York City and beyond,_
_Well then...?_

Yes, that=92s about the way the question came to me, unfinished,
Little dots of implication spilling out the end of it,
As I walked on the riverside embankment at around
Nine thirty-five a.m. and felt my heart rise at the sight=20
Of the tugboat _Catherine Brown _
And fly to it
As if (and this is where the question first came up, I guess)
As if the tugboat were a creature of God, no less or more
Than the cormorant just then rising=20
Through the surface of the water,
Or the fish that quivered in the cormorant=92s beak,
Or the sunlight flashing silver on the fish,
Or the river itself,=20
Which held them all.

I couldn't help myself. The boat was beautiful, so squat
And solid in the water, gliding through it=20
Like a dream of water, rising from it=20
With its curves like water=92s, full of grace
And diesel fuel. Oh pretty tug! I thought,=20
If you are not a work of God,
Then I=92ll believe it anyway, for love of you.
I=92ll teach myself to know it=92s true.

And so I taught:

_Who built the tugboat_ Catherine Brown_?_
The men and women of the Eastern Seaboard.

_And who built them?_
The Lord our Maker.

Through Evolution. Through the love of gain
And love of one another that compelled
The one-celled creatures of the Burgess Shale=20
To join together and become=20
The feathery _Thaumaptilon_, the squat and solid _Canadapsis_,
_Haplophrentis_ with its conic gist, _Hallucigenia_
Who walked on spikes,=20
And other awful symmetries
That stirred the shoreline waters when the history
Of complex, multicellular life began.

_And what else has that fateful conjugation wrought?_
The fish. The cormorant. The child I have yet to father.

_And will you call yourself the author of that child then? _

_And if you won't, _
_And if you know that love of gain _
_And love of one another drove _
_The men and women of the Eastern Seaboard to become _
_This city -- to compose the midtown skyline,_
_And the soaring of the bridge to Williamsburgh,_
_And over on the Brooklyn side, at water's edge,_
_The steam, the bricks, the boxy browns and yellows _
_Of the great ungainly Domino Sugar factory, where sweetness _
_Surely piles up in drifts -- and if_
_You can believe that all of this is just as much an artifact_
_Of ancient, protozoan cultures as it is_
_The work of women and of men,_
_Well then...?_
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