Jean Talon, Intendant of New France, To the King (1666)
Majesty, may this arrive, after months of turmoil
Carried by vassals chafed by violence yet calm
As their tilting little world of wood falls to rise
Bearing them like a nation on uneven histories
Of current and wave, spume and leviathan,
Astounded by dolphin and shark, salt-burnt and wise,
And find you smooth, perfumed, without grief
Or indigestion: vigorous among your scented court.
I write as chief Seigneur, your ever-loyal habitant,
Petitioning for a thing smaller than a flea in rice
Or a bead of sweat amid the corn. August is here,
Chill oblivion of unenviable winter barely run off
So now is the time of white-hot riot and gold growth.
Your lands on the South Shore are pitilessly pelted
With sun that might be melted ingots thrown down
As from the walls of a horde-besieged Avignon
Upon my bald and chapped skull, leather-clad, a ball
The indecently feathered savages might kick for fun.
It is hot – this land runs to extremes like a slattern
On Calvados; we cannot control our slap-happy men
Who have no time to sow seeds not of their own making,
Who would rather gallivant in the scrub and hunt beaver.
I have ten thousand acres of rich fertile land by a river
Wilder, wider and more supreme than the Ganges –
And no one to plant a bean or rip a carrot from the soil.
Majesty, with all my sprightly genius to serve and toil
Yet I am incapable as one mere mortal (though blessed)
To do what must be done, and flourish in this upheaval
Of weather, murder, and sadly-ignorant oblivion, Quebec.
Implore is too weak an expression for what follows –
We need famers, not rat-trappers, rapscallions, thugs,
Bird-stranglers, or jugglers. We need good wives
To come like sweet blessings in this hazardous limbo,
That feels daily as if there were no Christ, no Laws –
To lie with us in the nights, help us recall the words
We once spoke lightly in our cities and towns
In the human climate of our birthplace. Dispatch ships
Immediately, if you will, otherwise, I shall observe
In a year’s turn of the wheel a thousand acres
First of helpless snow then meaningless grass.
from When All My Disappointments Came at Once (Tightrope Books, 2012), © Todd Swift 2012, used by permission of the author