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Patrick Lawler


Murray Bookchin and Susan Griffin Buy a House in Love Canal

I got this plan.

I want to live in a place
where in the morning
you can leave your three-bedroom
ranch and look over
to your neighbor leaving
his three-bedroom ranch.
There’s something consoling about that.
I want to live in a place
where people say,
“How are you feeling?”
and really mean it.

In Love Canal the sky walks
over the tense trees. In Love Canal
the autumn sky looks like meat.

Some people think it’s crazy
to sell homes in Love Canal.
Some people think I’m crazy,
but that’s not always a bad thing.

This guy named Harvey
is trying to sell
me a house in Love Canal.
He says it is the safest place in America—
the testing, the monitoring wells,
the habitability reports.
And I look at the plywood on the windows,
and it makes me warm.
I feel this humming deep inside me.

It’s important to have good
neighbors, especially if you live on top
of a toxic waste dump.
And I tell Harvey I want him to be
my neighbor. Harvey’s eyeballs
begin to melt.

Let me tell you about this:
I get sick of all the fear.

Benzene. Dioxin. PCB.

It’s hard to get worked up about things
you can’t see. Oh sure, there’s
a town in Mexico where babies are born
without any brains.
But we live in America,
a place to meditate on
the remarkable aftermath of civilization.

And there is something holy about this place
called Love Canal—
it is as if all the roads leading to it
had been devoured by birds.

Harvey tells me the story about Love Canal:
The man named Love, his search for Utopia,
Hooker Chemical, the hysterical housewives
(especially Lois Gibbs), the hysterical housewives
who couldn’t stop thinking about their wombs.
But Harvey says we must be reasonable.
And I know it’s guys like Harvey who
got America where it is today.

Harvey tries to keep the air
from falling all at once into his body.

I want to buy a home at Love Canal.
I want to live inside the American Dream.
I want a wife out of a lipstick ad
with hair like cotton candy.
I want to drool over her.
I want to sit in the sunny kitchen
with the pink appliances and the microwave
like a coffin for one of those kids
who do their starving on TV for everyone to see.

So how are you supposed to determine
the habitability of a place?
I understand Harvey’s point.
I mean what are we supposed to do—
live on acres and acres of glass
so we can see everything below us:
the shiny mechanical intestines of the earth?
So we can see right straight down
into Dante’s House, into the crawling
things inside his brain. So we can see
into the stooped. So we can marvel
at the blue chemicals bouncing
inside the head of Persephone.
So we can stare forever at her mouth
as pink as poison. Come on.

Harvey says six people still live
in the uninhabitable zone.
I see a mail truck putter
past the boarded up houses.

I tell Harvey I like the idea of having a big fence
around the place they say contains 20,000 tons
of toxic waste. It makes me feel safe.
I tell Harvey I got a plan.
Harvey’s head spills out of the collar of his shirt.

You know, I wouldn’t mind being named Love.

It’s a good name for meeting people in bars.
I bet I’d get noticed.

I once knew a woman who lived at Love Canal—
a neighbor of Lois Gibbs.
She told me how spontaneous fires
used to errupt in her backyard.
Not bad for barbecues.
She talked about her whole family having

bone tumors. But you can’t always blame
everything on everyone else.
She said the kids who grew up at Love Canal
have no enamel on their teeth.
But I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.

You see, I want to live in Love Canal.
I want to live in a place like the place
I grew up in—with the TV always on.
It was pleasant and nice and pleasant.
Then they put a sign outside our house:
Slow Children.
I didn’t think they needed to advertise it.

Back then, we didn’t need to know
what was beneath us. Back then, we didn’t need
to imagine all the bubbling in the earth.
I mean nothing beyond the sexuality:
the tulip roots, the green fleshiness,
the bright pink buds. I mean,
we didn’t go down to the raw and the desolate.
We didn’t get through the mud drab layers.
The amber layers. There was much
we couldn’t see, and we knew it was better not to.

I say, Harvey, it’s you and me.
But listen, I don’t want to live where you’re selling
the homes, Harvey. No, I want to live

in the uninhabitable zone. I got this plan.
I’ll take everything into my backyard.

And Harvey tells me about Lois Gibbs.
How they put her witch black dress in the picture
window of her home and bulldozed it down with glee.
“Nothing but a housewife with a hairdresser’s education,”
he says. I imagine the workers delicately fingering
the button holes of the dress, dreaming of the pink
hairspray smells clinging to the fabric.

I got a plan, Harvey. I’ll let my basement overflow.
The chemicals will move like plasma through my pipes.
My faucet will be the discharge pipe of the world.
I’ll fill vials with Love Canal. I’ll sell them
on the shopping network.

And I’ll put my mouth to the faucet
and feel the whole chemical world
filtering through me. Jesus,
I’ll be the patron saint of toxic gush.

I can tell Harvey isn’t comfortable about something.
He tries to keep himself
from vanishing into a cavity that is opening
up behind his back.

No. No. Listen to this.
I could be the mailman at Love Canal.
In my grayish-blue uniform and with a
certain mailman attitude, I’d deliver all these letters
from all the sweet habitable zones.
And then I’d take away these packages

filled with the sky of Love Canal.
Filled with the silvery, tender
insides of Love Canal.

How much better could life be?