American Progress

~ after John Gast, 1872

Progress carries a School Book 
in one hand; and with the other, 
lets out lengths of telegraph wire
that magically scallop themselves 
on poles as she goes. Out east, 
ports and cities have already opened. 
A commerce of ships enters the channel, 
preparing to anchor at the docks. Perhaps
they've brought back pepper, coffee, tea; 
porcelain, gum copal, gunpowder—the same
boats that used to carry mostly slaves.
Textiles, yards of airy silks that go 
into garments such as the one she wears: 
an artful toga, its milky one-shoulder drape 
falling short of dishabille; its three-
button hitch atop a leggy side slit. 
She sports no jewelry except the Star 
of Empire above her brow. Look at her 
fixed, impassive smile. Given her size, 
which is monstrous (at least five times 
the height of the men in the foreground, 
one of them loosely clutching a rifle), 
the bison are fleeing; unhomed, the natives
are pushed closer to the margins. Everywhere 
this unnatural light approaches, the earth 
furrows beneath a blade. Deer panic. Yoked 
oxen bend under the whip. Wild dogs nose 
at the bones of the slaughtered, whitening 
to oblivion in the ancestral fields.

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