A Report to the City Commissioners: A Poem About Freedom and Privacy in the Surveillance Age


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.

Photo of the poet

David Wagoner reads “A Report to the City Commissioners”

Listen to the poem here.    (5.1 MB)

A Report to the City Commissioners

By David Wagoner  truthdig.com  January 21, 2015

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.

Every other week, Truthdig will publish poems that offer insight into current events and sociopolitical themes relevant to today’s world. From entries across the nation, Truthdig staff will select poems based on both their artistic qualities as well as the social issues they discuss. To read our guidelines and submit a poem for our consideration, click here.
By Published On: January 29th, 2015Comments Off on David Wagoner reads “A Report to the City Commissioners”

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