Beginnings by David King
It began with the coal gatherers
Cutting the flat Barrens for pine,
Piling it in rough pyramids, ten feet high,
Burning for days, but carefully
Throwing water to quench the outer flames,
Until the center was pure charcoal.
Then selling it to men in New York or
Philadelphia for smelting works and factories.
That was so long, a country ago,
That the people don’t remember
But think the stunted pines and
Thin yellow soil were always so,
That a land has to be forced to support anything
To be anything. So we learned to
Live from hand to mouth, doing
Dirty work in washed places.
Hand to mouth and hand to eye,
Small gardens and grass, a few stables
At Freehold where they race horses
And make a living at it.
Jersey tomatoes and sod ten cents
A pound, liquor and gambling
Just down the way.
And the highway that came in ‘33:
Motor through dawn, up and down the Parkway
And Turnpike, with a handful of quarters,
Looking for enlightenment and finding
Only lit places along the dense, controlled ways
That serve impersonal food in clear wrappings.
Floating like this, without a past, the tourists
Come to watch the ocean and stand on the jetties,
Close to the land, yet smelling the sea lettuce
And moss covering the purchased granite:
Maybe throwing a line into the managed waters.
Then to the clubs and restaurants,
Hotels and houses empty half the year,
And the crumbling fifty-year buildings,
Old pictures in new paint. Concrete and macadam,
Steel and brick made to endure the light
Summer, then empty, lacking a soul.
The trains arrive from New York: cars,
Busses, planes, and horses all mingled
In time and place. Those who come off
And must stay, find a space and settle,
Serving what people want and
Saying what people say, while the tourists pass
To the ocean through bridged inlets, just
Passengers who want a sleep and a meal.
So we made restaurants and theaters, shops
And stands, all clustered like plastic
Flowers around the wooden loneliness
Of the boardwalk whose lights
Splinter far out to the horizon.
It’s all hamburgers and soft custard,
Hot taffy and long nights, fried illusions,
Fresh tomatoes and borrowed Italian sausages;
All things lasting to the present
All things that can endure.