By Daniel Rigney (with apologies to Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 1916)  


Carbon dealer to the world,

Launcher, shipper, creator and healer of cancers.

Power player, gerrymanderer, engineer of inequalities.

Sprawling, storming, steaming, warming

City of the Big Fortunes.


They tell me you are acquisitive and I believe them, 

for I have seen your Nieman-Marxists.


They tell me you’re hard-working, and I believe them,

for I have seen your highways choked with driven drivers

burning oil in search of gold.


They tell me you are soulless and my reply is:

On the faces of the trafficked and the traffickers I’ve seen the marks of mammon.


They say your deepest thought is positive thinking,

your sacred creed commercial boosterism, 

your summum bonum Growth,

and corporate life your only ‘real world.’ 

(But what about our opera? Our ballet? Our haute cuisine and our investment art?)


And having answered so, I turn to those who sneer and say I’ll show you a city whose architectural erections dwarf the mighty towers of Dallas.

Where West and Old Confederacy met, a city stands

whose gated opportunities attract a world elite from every continent.     

And so the world comes to us and becomes us.



“Where do we come from?" Gaugin asks. “What are we? Where are we going?”

To these three questions Houston adds a fourth:

“How are these questions profitable?”


Some may scorn a city that spells success with dollar signs,

and can't imagine any other way.

But Houston is a city that means business -- 

wagering big and bold on buried fossils,

doubling down against the laws of nature and its prophets,

who foretell the doom of carbonomics

and extinction of the petrosaurs.

At sunrise, the carbon right

will not go gently into that renewing light,

but fume and rage in vain against the passing of the gaslit night.



Views: 172

Comment by Forest Green Magazine on January 4, 2013 at 5:20pm

Thanks, Maurene. I live in Houston currently, near the museums, and while I think Houston has some big positives, I don't see how it's sustainable in the long run unless its economic base is utterly transformed. I'm not holding breath.

Comment by Zanelle on January 4, 2013 at 10:19pm

Houston...lots of vivid images here.  Not a place I would want to be.  Good poem tho.

Comment by Forest Green Magazine on January 4, 2013 at 11:14pm

Thank you, Zanelle, and good to hear from you again! Actually, Houston has some fine features, but this poem isn't about them. Knowing your writing as I do, I'd say you might really enjoy Austin, easternmost city in California. It might  surprise you with its more artistic and countercultural vibrations. I'm looking  forward to catching up on your recent posts now that the hectic holidays are over.

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on January 5, 2013 at 4:53am

This is excellent! I enjoyed it to no end. Well done.

Comment by M. C. Sears on January 5, 2013 at 8:58am

Well done!

Comment by Forest Green Magazine on January 6, 2013 at 1:57pm

Thanks to Stephen, M.C, Maurene and all for your encouraging comments!

Comment by J D Smith on January 6, 2013 at 3:30pm

What interesting parallels to the original, and what a line of reasoning! Well done!

Comment by Forest Green Magazine on January 6, 2013 at 10:25pm

Thank you, J.D. It's a lot easier to play off Sandburg, I'm sure, than it was for him to conceive "Chicago" in the first place. But I enjoyed making a serious point with his considerable help.

Comment by Matt Paust on January 9, 2013 at 11:05am

  Clever and effective application of celebratory verse to dire straits.  Your tip of the hat to Dylan Thomas at the end is perfect.

Comment by JMac1949 Memories on January 9, 2013 at 6:34pm

In 1973 during the first Arab oil embargo those cars on the highways "choked with driven drivers" bore bumper stickers that read "Let the Yankee bastards freeze in the dark."  In my mind no other memory captures the essence of Houston Texas better than that one.  R&L ;-)


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