THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
PLANS TO STRAIGHTEN OUT HIGHWAY 1

Was the Department of Transportation
Created to break our starved hearts?
So it would seem. They bulldoze dreams.
Once, where we blasted across a high bridge
And glimpsed, through a lattice of steel,
The flash of the black-and-blue river,
A raft of bluebills aswim in a swirl,
The thrashing white rapids below,
Our looks now boomerang off a blank wall,
The highway turned hallway, one more
Aesthetic atrocity committed, one more
Beauty spot blotted out.

And now they intend to tame Highway 1,
That sweet prime number, that first and best
Rambunctious trunk through the trees,
That primitive, asphalt snake in the woods,
That whoopdedoo carnival ride of a road.
Oh, say it ain't so! Oh, no, no, no.
Didn't these planners have fathers at all
To tell them the journey itself is the goal?
Were their poor mothers so hooked on speed
They could only whisper, “Efficiency!”?
Oh, say it ain't so. Oh, no.

Will we allow them to level the lift
And fall, the swoop and drop,
The rockabye-baby ocean motion
Singing through our spinning wheels,
The lilt of the lullaby lay of the land?

No, no. No more tilt-a-whirl, watch out,
Hit the gas, touch the brake, wake up,
Hug the curve, sliding, gliding off on the bowbend,
Double back, hairpin, stop-and-go waltz?
Will all this be lost? To what end, pray tell.
To arrive more quickly at a gravel pit
Or the big blue nothing of Lake Superior?

Whoa, nelly. Don't tell me
We should speed past trees that took
Two hundred years and more to be
The colossal candelabras they've slowly become

Says who? Should MNDOT reduce
Our chance to flush a flustered grouse,
Waken a wolf, startle a deer, frighten a fox,
Or collide with the sudden broad side of a moose?

Save us, preserve us from Euclid's dream,
The gleam in the architect's eye. Leave us
This road like a river's meander through popple and pine.
Let planners surrender their pens, resign.

Duluth writer Barton Sutter is the author of five books, including My Father's War and Other Stories, Cold Comfort: Life at the Top of the Map, and The Book of Names: New and Selected Poems, all three of which have won Minnesota Book Awards. His new collection of poems, Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey, is scheduled for publication this fall. More info about MN1’s reconstruction at <http://www.dot.state.mn.us/roadwork/bynum50.html>