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Dan Overgaard

Ballad of Golden Disruption

Ballad of Golden Disruption

Mine the miners, not the mines.
            —Doc Maynard, a founder of Seattle

As if precision bombing overnight
has taken out some terrorists, houses
have disappeared. It may have been a week,
not overnight, but even still, you have
to recognize the power of a force
that can effectively touch down like this
and terminate some gentle bungalows,
a useful cobbler shop, a corner store,
a church—long hollowed out, admittedly—
a tavern and a favorite burger place
that generations were quite happy with.

It isn’t war, but serious money-bombs
have tracked and targeted and taken these.
And gaping craters dent the neighborhoods,
defended by chain-link—which means the hits
weren’t random: someone aimed, intended them.
You might be innocently driving by,
but simply won’t remember what was there.
Still elsewhere, you can see an emptiness
where vacant buildings, smoked by money-gas,
have been evacuated, maybe overnight.


Now we have people camping in the parks and streets
like refugees—so many, curled in tents
or padded down between some shopping carts
on freshly flattened cardboard, just discarded
by some eager fingers in their prime.
They’ve staked their claims in weedy parking strips
and any gap an owner has ignored
between some purpose and a busy road.

What mysteries, what sorrows, and what needs
are crumpled under blankets, plastic sheets,
and in those leaky sleeping bags? They’ll be exposed
and then ignored when wind and rain investigate—
untucking edges, sliding coolly in between
thin layers that will stiffen when they dry—
that’s if they ever, in a place like this—
before they’re desiccated in the coming heat.

Decrepit Winnebagos, strapped with tarps
and bikes and generators, flung about
with trash, are stalled in ragged, broken-down
platoons on noisy streets and vacant alleys,
flanking swaybacked station wagons, with a fence
or two of splintered pallets leaning in.
Their windows might be hung with mildewed towels
or wrinkled tinfoil. But despite the faded
branding on their corrugated asses,
these aren’t nomads—they aren’t going anywhere.

What peeled these souls away from where they started,
broke their hooks and fasteners—who scrambled them
and scraped them off, who dumped them out like this,
or ripped them inside out, blue vein by vein?
Perhaps some voices chased them to exhaustion, or
their own pursuits caught up and knocked them down.
These shadows hide the hunters and their prey.
Indeed, we had a war or two, but something big withdrew
and left behind too many blistered veterans,
who bivouac under these joyless, streetlight moons.


A flock of giant cranes has landed here
and they are feeding on some fresh rebar
that trucks, like fish, are daily weaving in
through rushing rapids—we all have to leap.
Above these crashing waterfalls of streets
the canyons of the city have new cliffs,
and as we every which way swim upstream
against the turbulence, we scrape on rocks
or bump each other, seeking quiet pools.

Big dinosaurs with excavating jaws
are rumbling round in pits of glacial till
laid down some fourteen thousand years ago. 
They’re chewing into everything they can
and flinging stacks of rebar like old bones,
while herds of growling, bulging mastodons
excrete their runny concrete in the pits.

Although the towers going up have blocked
our views on every side, one long view says
that this is simply nature, in its way
adapting to its highest and best use,
rewarding some for now, a little cruel
to others (or a lot), improving you
and your descendants with some great new tools.

Software developers have overrun
the sidewalks and cafes—or so it seems—
and they ignore us as they circulate,
unwittingly, with herd efficiency.
They’re emulating schools, or packs and pods,
since they are busy grazing, seeking food.

They need the energy to write more rules
for gathering and hunting, and for bargaining;
for sharpening some sticks that we can use
to scratch our marks beside some pictographs—
and then to entertain each other, flinging mud
or beating on algorithms by the fire.


You may not find your nuggets in a pan
this time around, and claims are not so clear
when you might be the miner or the dirt,
a nugget that is suddenly revealed,
a hose applying pressure, or the flash
that typically identifies a fool
as soon as he or she can be assayed.

The water washing through is cold and bright, 
except when overwhelmed by the sediment
from other fools who pan upstream from you,
and all of them are upstream. It appears
they're panning overnight while you're asleep.

It's possible that you may not have heard,
but in addition to your endless search
you'll have to make new nuggets of your own,
out of some dirt, or anything around—
something you brought along or can’t resist
and have to share, or feel you must compare.
It's alchemy, but now and then it works.

However fresh, your nuggets must be sold
persuasively, or else they will not rate,
and if they do not flash, you will be panned.
The competition here is pretty steep,
and you may be assayed from anywhere.

So now and then you'll have to take a break,
but don’t forget—that’s another opportunity
for nuggets, too. Where ever will you go?
At last count there were forty-nine new bars
to try. Who needs 'em?—just a gold rush town
with way too many people on its hands
and something like a thousand more each month
arriving here and looking where to land.

And if you spend an evening in those bars,
you’ll surely hear analysis like this:
“They didn’t have our analytics then,
they didn’t have our data! It’s absurd
to think those crusty, nugget-hunting guys
were anything like us—we’re in our prime,
and we’ve got algorithms—they had slime!”


Despite all this, the gold rush isn’t here
but everywhere, and claims are being staked
in places we will never feel or see,
on maps that we will never see unrolled.
The Patent Office has been overwhelmed
by all the clever claims and counterclaims
as miners race down gullies from the hills,
resulting in big shoot-outs by the courts.

A hundred and more years ago, some people here
got rich off all the would-be miners riding in
by selling them provisions, booze and shoes—
and that is so much bigger now, since there
are miners digging everywhere, like you.

A little gold is buried in the lowest price
for anything, and you may stay up late
while chasing that, tapping some weightless flakes
into the secret pouch you travel with,
till you can melt them down for a reward.

Out in the wild, way on the other end
of all the little nicks your hammer makes,
a rougher outfit has come blasting through
and turned some operation upside down,
corralled their gold, and run their miners off. 

Still others sell no pans or booze or shoes—
they’re simply following the nuggets in your hands,
the trails you took and where you keep your stash,
what creeks you went to and how wet you got—
did you go skinny-dipping, and who with?
They also want to know whose dirt you used
to make your nuggets, where you dug it out
and what you mixed it with to look like that,
how hard you threw it and how well it stuck.

They watch you stepping out and dragging in,
and offer tips to help you on your way,
as well as bring you anything you need—
including new attachments for your tools—
since you will make more nuggets they can use.
But their helpfulness may feel more like abuse:
the way they follow, grabbing at your sleeves,
as dangerous as a menace on the street
who’s turning all your pockets inside out.

On this frontier, you’ll hustle to survive
and might end up by losing all you have
when sluiced away with tailings down the hill,
but there’s no doubt you’ll scramble up again,
horse or no horse—though you will need some boots—
and grab a grubstake for another play.


Some bungalows replaced old miners’ shacks,
and now more bungalows are being replaced
by piles of fancy boxes, stacked in rows
that call to mind the stacked containers at
the port—except they haven’t gotten rusty yet—
and blocks-long walls of scalloped balconies
on permanently docked immensities
with sky-high decks, and bars, and fire pits.

Sheer banks of windows, now the city’s face,
reflect its image back upon itself—
indulgently, like mirrors hung in gyms—
and after dark you might see bluish light
from various rooms where hits of dopamine
are being clicked and pixelated out
on weary miners plugging through the night.

Then early, as the sun comes up through rain
a rumble starts, and you may see small packs
of randomly voracious, scarfing trucks
come rooting through the streets like feral hogs,
engorged with what they gobbled at the port,
disgorging it in stops between the stacks,
then snorting up the hills to bungalows,
propelled that way by hungers and by needs.

With squeals between the dripping evergreens,
they chase each others’ tails around the lakes
and farther out, amok in cul-de-sacs, where
horny pickups grunt and swagger, tall as bulls,
among the herds of bovine SUVs.

You’ll tip your boxes just like little calves
to skin them of their cardboard, spilling your stuff
along with ruptured bladders of stale air
and broken knuckles of pale, wasted styrofoam.
And you might get caught by sticky ligaments
of tape while rassling the flaps of ragged hides
that suffered in their battering delivery
of whatever you confirmed a while ago.

Your hides’ll be trucked off for processing,
where they’ll be flattened out and fattened up,
rebranded, slapped, and herded round again.
Cut loose, some balky flaps will skitter off
like tumbleweed until they’re snagged on random tents,
where they might ease a bony hip or shoulder overnight—
or maybe they’ll just flop around in the rain,
looking for some leaves to hide in till they’re mush,
to start again much farther up the chain.


Imagine the medieval candlelight that
kept some chemists and philosophers up late,
scribbling new formulas and gazing into it
while dreaming about what might be done with fire
and any other common elements.

Surely some new combination would release
their secret properties, transmuting gold
the way a humble wick made golden light,
releasing tallow into puddles streaked with ash;
and look—the way a polished mirror doubled
everything, including the beguiling wisps
and disappearing filigrees of smoke. 

If they could skip the centuries of sweat—
whole lives of hauling, bleeding, burning, shoveling;
the blasted valleys and the ruined streams—
they might be tickled by the silly ease
of all these marvelous contraptions
calling on each other for their antics
and routines, by the prestidigitation
of temptations and seductions in the
captivating chaos of this carnival of light. 


Now all comes rushing through a looking glass,
a glowing window on a breathless, bursting world
of irresistible distractions and delights,
just out of reach—to make us reach for them—
soliciting our eyes and fingertips
in lightest whispers, for a brief caress:
“Please, bring me up and touch me, pull me in.”

Surrendering’s a gentle finger dance—
a glance, a slide, a little flick of sparks,
and then, perhaps, that lovely vertigo, the full
attention of a mirror turned on you.
And what a mirror!—everything around
and all behind you, everyone you summoned
crowding in to be reflected and embraced.

However luminous your gathering,
some phantoms and their shadows will be there
or coming by as soon as possible
to pick and scavenge, scraping everything—
whatever can be lit, or may ignite
as soon as it’s exposed. You may not feel
the contours of your faces being whisked away,
or see the traces of your wick unraveling,
but somewhere, somehow, you are being sold.


The heaps of gold are not a fever dream,
they’re piling up around us—and off-shore,
which would be out of mind, except we get
these frequent and exuberant reports
comparing all the distant pinnacles
around the ring of fire against our own—
though truly, they are anything but that.

We’re trying to roll with seismic changes
that some geologic or financial wits
decided could be classified as shifts,
but it’s disturbing when tectonic plates
assert their deepest plans to dominate,
and bully one another, showing off
by ganging up and shoving like they do, 
especially if you’re anywhere around
when all the cutlery and china crashes down.

Some days it feels like agitated violins
are tuning up, or maybe nervously
rehearsing what they do not want to play—
accompanied by random, booming warnings
from the timpani, who typically and wisely
bide their time, simply observing while the arguments
of points and counterpoints are building toward
a clash or a crescendo, when they know they’ve
got to interject, to calm everyone down.
But the conductors who could orchestrate
all that are still out there in the lobby,
fencing crazily with skinny, short batons.

Outside, the normal places where we like
to scroll and meet, or take our daily views
and constitutionals, are dirty with
the same anxiety, an acrid smoke
from all the firecrackers lit and thrown,
more than a few aimed more like bombs, to maim.
Some angry jesters have assembled, they’re
anonymous—but hell, you know they’re wolves
and jackals. Please be careful: you may slip
on gobs of spittle in the public square.

We may decide we don’t want to go out, 
but in this world, outside is in for now 
and everything inside may soon be out—
like it or not—and burn us when it shines.
The mirror watches, and the mirror knows
it’s hard to look away, and awfully hard
to climb back out after you’ve fallen in.
And whether it is safe or not, we’ve stored
our memories in the looking glass, which means
we need the way it needs us, turnabout,
and want to lift the looking glass again.


And so the city rises, squeezing images,
accumulating towers in the clouds
for waves of lightning hurtling through the air
invisibly, with promises and static
charging down for your attention and a deal.

Some other clouds will fill the mountain ranges
all around us with more snow, and the snow
will settle into gullies as it melts
to help the gullies find the creeks, and creeks
will run down valleys towards a river or a lake,
while the rivers carve old pathways, seeking fish
beyond the orchards, past some bony giants
slicing harvests from the wind. It sounds like
folly, cooling lightning with more snow. 

Our truant sun comes late, dependably
reluctant to convey its full opinion,
but with lots of side-eye—flashing first
across the lofty, gilded parapets
above the hanging gardens and promenades
of the current, distant boy-king, who is off
again on acquisitions and adventures;
then bouncing down and lingering, askance,
on the ragged uniforms of the irregulars
of other dynasties and pirates, who dispatch
their colonizing fleets of pills and needles
up the tangled, bloody estuaries of
every lonely, injured country they can find.

A ravenous contagion on the loose
came rattling through, a silent hurricane
that spawned a million vicious downspouts,
slamming doors and sucking all the air
from random lives, while splintering the walls
and shredding many families’ insulation.

So much sorrow, and how hard we had to squint
as twisters blew pernicious grit on everyone,
but you could be surprised—and served—by grace,
by real tenacity—including tenderness—
as those who bent in unexpected ways
hauled necessary burdens through the storm.

Rebar consumed, some cranes have taken off
to find new pits of rutting mastodons,
perhaps as close as up or down the hill.
They love the guano of that wet concrete,
sinking their feet in prehistoric dung
and gorging on the tang of fresh rebar.

The fat saltwater cranes, a different breed
entirely, never leave their inlets by the bay,
bobbing and waddling, slowly, while they feed
on everything the tides wash out and in.
And down the street, another house has disappeared.

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Dan Overgaard was born and raised in Thailand. He attended Westmont College, dropped out, moved to Seattle, became a transit operator, then managed transit technology projects and programs. He’s now retired, and probably gardening or catching up on reading. His poems have appeared in Santa Clara Review, Across The Margin, The Galway Review, Shark Reef, As It Ought To Be Magazine, Canary Lit Mag, Triggerfish Critical Review and other journals. Read more at:

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