‘The Freeways Considered As Earth Gods’ a poem by Dana Gioia

The Friday poem is for all of you who spend time commuting to work. After reading poet Dana Gioia’s poem, I doubt you will ever experience being stuck on the 405 freeway in the same way. If you are not familiar with Mr. Gioia’s work, his personal career story, beginning as a graduate of the Stanford Business School and moving on to become a vice president at General Foods is not your typical path to poetry. From 2003 to 2009 he served as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and currently lectures at the University of Southern California.

The Freeways Considered As Earth Gods

These are the gods who rule the golden land.
Their massive bodies stretch across the countryside,
Filling the valleys, climbing the hills, curving along the coast,
Crushing the earth from which they draw their sustenance
Of tar and concrete, asphalt, sand, and steel.

They are not new, these most ancient of divinities.
Our clamor woke them from the subdivided soil.
They rise to rule us, neither cruel nor kind,
But indifferent to our ephemeral humanity.
Their motives are unknowable and profound.

The gods do not condescend to our frailty.
They cleave our cities, push aside our homes,
Provide no place to walk or rest or gather.
The pathways of the gods are empty, flat, and hard.
They draw us to them, filling us with longing.

We do not fail to worship them. Each morning
Millions creep in slow procession on our pilgrimages.
We crave the dangerous power of their presence.
And they demand blood sacrifice, so we mount
Our daily holocaust on the blackened ground.

The gods command the hilltops and the valleys.
They rule the deserts and the howling wilderness.
They drink the rivers and clear the mountains in their way.
They consume the earth and the increase of the field.
They burn the air with their rage.

We are small. We are weak. We are mortal.
Ten thousand of us could not move one titan’s arm.
We need their strength and speed.
We bend to their justice and authority.
These are the gods of California. Worship them.

Dana Gioia ‘Pity the Beautiful’ Graywolf Press, 2012

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