Every Tuesday morning, we present a poem for you to enjoy, but this week we're going to do something a little different. I want to call a piece of public art to your attention. Robert Montgomery's poem "The Stars Pulled Down for Real" is the latest site-specific artwork at All Rise, the public art space located between Denny and John, down in the Denny Triangle. All Rise's website explains Montgomery's work as "confront[ing] a post-utopian current while echoing a full, at times romantic, chronology of a land divided, shaped, and built ever-upward."
I think "post-utopian" is maybe a bit too hopeful; I'd call it downright dystopian in places, with our love affair with the road described as "the beginning of a contagion" and people chastised as "ignoring the time of the ice cap melts" and wondering "how will they remember the oil age."
This site, remember, is on an incredibly busy road, a major exchange leading to I-5, and so in many ways it's science fiction colliding with the present-day city around it. This is a vision of a future generation struggling to remember the crisis that brought ruination upon them, right in front of a round-the-clock display of the technology that brought the ruination in the first place. In some ways, it's like Montgomery is putting up yellow crime-scene tape around a murder in progress.
But there's hope in there, too! Or at least an appreciation of "the city" as "a magical sculpture we live inside," even if Montgomery is envisioning the skyscrapers (which are at your back if you're reading the billboard) as a post-human landcape with eagles living ("not as symbols/just as eagles") on them as repurposed clifftops. The city will survive us. The city will always be put to good use, even if we're not around to be the ones who use it.
I know that last one is hard to read, but it's a reprisal of the text on the first billboard, only in lights: "Squares and squares of flame with memory inside them remembering the map under the flood water twist up the heartsongs of the dead into empty stadiums and all the stars pulled down now for real." After you read your way around the billboards, you arrive at the end, which is the beginning. Montgomery seems to be lamenting our loss, not damning us for losing everything. He's not quite Ozymandias, urging us to look and despair. Instead, he's demanding that we find the beauty in the world we're in the process of discarding.
"The Stars Pulled Down for Real" will be pulled down (for real) on September 5th, so you have less than a week to go enjoy it in real life. I'd encourage you to do so.