DeWitt Henry

On Property

Philosophers and monks disavow it.
Things of this world:
Versailles, Yasnava Polyana,
Mar-a-Lago or King Tut’s tomb.

Thoreau’s twenty-eight-dollar- 
and-twelve-cent cabin.

We stake out territories, as do birds
with song—my tree, my nest.
Even the homeless, my sleeping bag,
shopping cart, my steam grate.

Unaccomodated Lear: 
“Off, you lendings….
Thou art the thing itself.”  

Tsunami, tornado, wildfires
artillery or rockets
leave consumer goods
among the ruins.

Your TV or mine, inner-spring mattress,
mass-produced dolls and bikes.
Just things, we say.  Got out alive.

"Every man has a property 
in his own person,”
asserts John Locke.

The proprietory lover warns
“remember when a dream appears,
you belong to me,”
though lovers aren’t property.

Covet not thy neighbor’s wife
(or husband), trophy or not.

Covet not the swimming pool
the new SUV, the greener grass.

My teenaged son
prized his rap CDs, his DVDs,
his posters, his laptop, 
his boxer underwear,
his Red Sox caps, his basketball
shoes, his dress shirts and T shirts
and faded, pre-torn jeans:
“my Life,” he called them.
Blamed us if we touched
without permission, or 
mixed in family laundry.

I drove him to college
mattress tied to roof,
back seats crammed
with impedimentia.

God bless the child
that’s got her own.

Neighbors expect us
to keep up our house,
bushes pruned, grass mowed,
fresh paint.  No eyesores 
or neglect.  

Property taxes hire police,
for fear of vandals, thieves,
or home invaders. 
Some of us keep guns.

“What is the effect of property
upon the character?”  
E.M. Forster asks.

It makes him feel “heavy,”
he says.  Too heavy 
to pass through the eye 
of a needle.

As a boy I envied 
birds, dogs, and wildlife
the right to cross
suburban yards,
blind to human borders.

And what of 
public lands, parks, and commons,
owned by town, state, nation?
“This land is our land
From California 
to Manhattan island,”
sings Woody Guthrie.

European ancestors colonized,
homesteaded, and fought 
indigenous peoples 
as well as each other
for the continent.

“The land was ours before
we were the land’s,” wrote Frost.

Whose island was Prospero’s?
Sycorax’s?  Caliban’s?  Arial’s?
Was Prospero the colonist,
or philosopher king?

In More’s Utopia, Hythloday
argues: “where possessions be private…
it is… almost impossible
that the weal-public may be
justly governed.”
And More’s retort: “Methinketh
that men shall never there live wealthily
where all things be common.”

Is this my poem, 
or ours?