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Romantic Conceit

Look here, love! This is a map of the countryside
as it was fifty years ago. The green tints, both dark and light,

represent forests. Half the area, as you see, was covered
with forest. Where there’s a sort of network of red
over the green the forests were inhabited by elk and wild

goats. Here on this lake lived great flocks of swans
and geese and ducks; there was a power of birds

as the old men say, of every kind. No end of them. They
flew in clouds. And have vanished the same. Beside
the neighborhoods and towns, you see, I have dotted

down here, the various suburbs, farms, churches, and
cell-towers. Cattle–meat and dairy– and horses,

were plentiful as you see by the quantity of blue
paint. For instance, see how thickly blue lies in this part;
there were great herds of them here, an average of three

horses to every house.      Now, look lower down. This is
the countryside as it was twenty-five years ago. Already,

only a third of the map is green now with forests.
There are no goats left and few elk. The blue
and green paints are lighter, and so on.      Now, love

our countryside as it appears to-day. We still see spots
of green, but patchy. The elk, the swans, geese,

the black-cock have disappeared. There isn’t a trace of
the small farms or churches, the cell-towers are
neglected. It is, on the whole, the picture of a gradual,

slow decline which it will evidently only take
about ten or fifteen more years to complete. You may

object that it is natural progress, that the old way of life
must give way to the new. Yes, and I would agree
with you. If interstates and high-speed rail had been

run through these disappeared forests and landfilled
lakes, if there were start-ups and schools. The people

then might have become healthier, better off, educated.
But there’s nothing. There’s still the same swamps and
mosquitoes, absence of infrastructure; the same disease

and want; neglect, addiction, shuttered buildings,
brownfields. We are confronted by the degradation

of our countryside, brought on by an insupportable
struggle for existence, by inertia. As when a sick starving,
person, simply to save their own life and protect

their children, instinctively snatches at anything that
satisfies their hunger, and in doing so destroys things

without thought for tomorrow. And almost everything
has gone already, and nothing created to replace it. But, I
see by your face that I’m not interesting you. Yes, I see.

“From Uncle Vanya.”  


Adam Day’s collection Model of a City of Civil War is forthcoming from Sarabande Books. He is the recipient of a 2010 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and of a 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. His work has appeared in the Boston Review, Lana Turner, APR, Guernica, Iowa Review, BOMB, AGNI, Kenyon Review,and elsewhere. He also directs the Baltic Writing Residency in Latvia, Scotland, and Bernheim Forest.