[ToC]

 

THE NEW PASTORALISM

Devon Walker-Figueroa

 

       I was raised                                                to revere the notion of rapture
by a mother who trained me well        in the art of pleasing violent lives.
(When the time is right, I'll cease                     to shun the Old World vulture.)

My sinuosity sets me                                apart. (There's nothing like a ligatured
      artery, I find. Nothing              like inventing the cure to my silent                 hives.)
I was raised to fever                                         in the motion of rupture.

The era of concrete is                          over: I've sent the city out to pasture. 
              Space meadows are old             hat. Just fab         oxygen candles that lack
the ability to stutter. (When the rhyme is         right, I lease a gun to the failed butcher.)          

      I engineer an atmos-                     phere that can never fail me, & my plaster
walls are clothed in white clematis. (It's easy to behave
      when it means                lasting a little longer.) Have I mentioned
                                                                        I'm praised for fearing        the erosion of culture?                

I sentence Noah to shame, harvest cells from all dying             beasts, let them endure
                     their own obsolescence. They roam         now, saved
from a humdrum planet. (When the mime is trite, I shoot him
                                                                                     from the stage—I don't believe in torture.)

My flag is blue as the welkin that's leaving                  me, my vestibules are verdure,
              & the Monarchs, unburdened of migration, are no longer slaves
to the wind. I raze my head, flaunt my bio-                         degradable sutures.
                      When the time is right, I'll redeploy                            an abducted future.

 

 

 

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In 2014, while a student at Bennington College in rural Vermont, I made a habit of going into the library and hoarding the most attractive magazines and journals into a regular Tower of Babel. I would then peruse these finds, sometimes for hours on end, if my homework load permitted such dalliances. This is how I met the design booklet called "The New Pastoralism: Landscape into Architecture." I was captivated by its collision—its provisional harmony!—of landscape and technology. From start to finish, this booklet vacillated between the utopian and the resigned. Some of the contributors, convinced that earth was not a sustainable habitat for humans, had taken to designing capsules containing idyllic landscapes, landscapes destined to drift in outer space. "The Natural World" in such a scenario would be a reinvention, a true challenge to any assumptions we have about the relationship between design and "nature."

Other contributors to "Landscape into Architecture," who had not yet given up on earth, had taken to hybridizing the park and the skyscraper. These hypothetical monuments, whether floating through the void or rising from New York City basalt, were as artificial as they were natural. This led me to think about the tradition of pastoral poetry and how so many of the poets who immortalized shepherds tending their flocks in lambent meadows were actually city-dwellers and had no prolonged or intimate connection with the landscapes they so readily depicted. As someone who did grow up in a rural area—in the ghost town of King's Valley in Oregon, to be exact—I wanted to try a bit of a reversal, as in, I wanted to write about a landscape at once familiar to me—wild and green and such—and one that was alien to me, as in, dislocated from earth and from the biosphere as we know it, a landscape on the other side of extinction, and yet observable. I'll leave it up to you if this paradoxical-house-of-cards-in-the-shape-of-a-villanelle stands up.