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Ice Boom America


I wait for that day in the Almanac

when the sun feels warm to the lumberjacks

when the ground it thaws and the ice it cracks,

That’s the time we’ll take our country back.

––Tom Pacheco


The Ice Boom, a necklace of steel cylinders

strung at the eastern end of Lake Erie, holds back

the ice chunks from pummeling down the Niagara River,

damaging docks and the power plant.

A joint effort by Canada and United States, the Ice Boom

is dropped into place after winter solstice,

and pulled out again in early spring.

Whatever ice is left in Lake Erie melts

or flows downriver without mishap inside two weeks:

hands across the border join to benefit all people.


In 1972 I was traveling east through the Andes

in rainy season, a journey they said would take

anywhere from twelve hours to two weeks.”

One way traffic east on odd days, one way west on even,

a single line of overloaded trucks and buses snaked its way

across precipices to the first washout. The roiling river

had taken over and there was no road, just

a water channel three feet deep. The people got down


from the buses and trucks, they got to work bringing

stones and boulders, building a makeshift bridge

in the current, nobody’s legs dry below the knees.

A hundred men and women hauled stone, piled it

loosely so the water passed through,

until the line leader said he’d try it.

The top-heavy truck with the scarlet pompoms

and God is My Power on the grill

creaked forward. Four hundred sets of eyes

willed and pushed him on.

He faltered, almost bottomed out,

then clawed his way up the far bank, the crowd

roared over him with one voice, our arms raised in salute.


We were a people bridge then, hand over hand crossing rocks

on foot so the empty buses had a better purchase,

all trousers and skirts soaked up to the thighs,

all babies and children were handed and carried

to the far bank, and we made it,

and behind us the others, the brightly painted buses

and ancient semis groaning slowly down the hill,

and that is how it worked, the power of people.


The ice arched up at the mouth of the Niagara

melts or bobbles downstream, and no one is hurt.

Now think of the glacial freeze

over the hearts and minds of America:

The Condoleeza Rice igloo, the black ice verdugos

Gonzalez and Negroponte—their shadows

rising behind them like torture racks over Honduras

and Abu Graib. Think of us as a people

lulled into a cryogenic sleep by TV, suspended

like Walt Disney in his ice cube under Disney World.


How can we get our country back

from the ice blocks and floes of corporate fists?

How can we break up the freeze on democracy,

bought and stolen through voting booths,

our gaze hypnotized by the media away from the unholy war

in Iraq and the hundred thousand dead, from Hitlerian tactics

of the emperor nobody wants to acknowledge

as their elected president? How can we unfreeze

the freedoms we’re supposed to have?


Wake up America! The ice boom has been removed

like cataracts from a sightless nation,

the water is running free.

We can unthaw the airwaves, we can hammer away

at the ice gates of Valhalla, we can wrestle

the frozen mammoth of greed to the ground,

we can point to the weapons of unspent uranium

maiming generations of Iraqis and our own soldiers alike.

We can raise our voice like the folks at the river:


We are one, we are a river, and we want our country back.



Willow, New York, March 2005



[Originally published in NHS 2005, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs05/janine_pommy_vega.html.]