At a time when the surveillance state seems stronger than ever and individuals feel increasingly helpless in their search for privacy and freedom, award-winning poet David Wagoner reminds us that sometimes even the most regimented pursuits may lead to a solace that can only be found in unexpected places. Listen to his reading of the illuminating poem below, and be sure to read along.

David Wagoner reads “A Report to the City Commissioners”

A Report to the City Commissioners

By David Wagoner

We entered Manhole 90 equipped to investigate the main, and the main problem seemed obviously at first the roots of some old trees, so in spite of the competition from rats, we cut our way through to the intersection and emerged through 91 to a numberless unrecorded district which proved to be the source of all the complaints the Commission complained about, the losses of pressure, the power failures. We found there trunks and illegal branches growing between our wires, Short-circuiting, Stripping, and Downing being the principal violations of trust, and the strictly restricted public transformers had been transformed into stone-cold, private conveniences, and wooden poles had all rooted, grown taller, sprouted leaves, had given rent-free room to birds, conspired at their bases with weeds without permits, had ramped some curbs and sidewalks and driveways into slabs and confused all of the signs of Private Parking, One Way, Rapid Transit Only, No Entry, Stop, Dead End, and the single hot-and-cold faucets we tested only coughed, whistled, and sucked wind, yet a kind of illegal water was running from uphill along which grass and flowers had grown. It was clear proof this leakage was years long and unless it could be confined to sewers and outfalls might erode a dangerous, unregulated course regardless of cross streets or the zones of property, and though we hesitate to alarm Commissioners who oversee our dreams with the raw ingredients of urban myths, we found in patches of raw earth made soft by the spring rain paw prints of unknown unlicensed animals. We’re all living here now and enclose our resignations.

David Wagoner has published 20 books of poems, most recently “After the Point of No Return” (Copper Canyon Press, 2112). He has also published 10 novels, one of which, “The Escape Artist,” was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop.

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