Write something cheerful, advises
my dear cousin from the early
seventeenth-century, a wretched
girl born in a nondescript town-house
down on New Amsterdam’s Wall Street. Write
something less depressing, something
perhaps about gladioli or parmesan
cheese, please, she begs.

In those days, 14th Street was
Uptown. I should know. That’s
not too far from where the
Van Valkenburgh homestead was first staked
out, some 400 years ago. That’s
before women with wide bottoms
were body shamed and long before
men dared walk the streets hand
in hand like adolescent girls.
There was cow shit everywhere and
without a candle you had to sit
in the dark.

It was long ago. Back, back before
yesterday, when porcupines
ruled the waves. “Back in the day,”
as tattooed youths in bright, bleached
T-shirts say, back before girls
gave blow-jobs for lunch money,
back before singers with gold-capped
teeth sang songs about shooting
bitches, when people lived in harmony
or tried to, and if they didn’t,
were shunned or driven off.

The Dutch settlers now are
largely forgotten. The Van Burens
and Roosevelts seem almost
quaint, just memories like Anastasia and the
Tsar; there aren’t even any photos.
One thinks of churning butter or, perhaps
of FDR’s stuffed birds. It was a long time ago
when the Dutch occupied the Hudson Valley;
long ago when they built their fort
on lower Manhattan. Who cares?
Now we dream of holidays
in the South Pacific: topless
girls and venereal disease.
Melville prevails.

But cheer up. There’s nothing wrong
that a little life can’t cure.
Think of sunflowers, think of John Coltrane,
not boll weevils. Remember the Alamo,
not the Holocaust. The American dream
carries on, ever-expanding, evolving. The
Dutch came and went. It’s all been
left in good hands. We stand
now blindfolded, ready to walk
the plank. The pirates are not
simpletons. They’re brothers and
sisters; they’re gung-ho. They just
want justice. Let the purge begin.
We’ll declare ourselves obsolete. Their
leaders read the comics; their rallying cry
is familiar: quack, quack, quack. Could
anything be more encouraging
than ducks on a mission?