“Improvement makes straight road; but the crooked
roads without Improvement are roads of Genius”
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,1793
There once was a path that led from A to B.
It was a green path, muddy in the winter but passable,
overhung by heavily swaying branches in the summer
that shimmered and murmured with the sunlight.
People from town A used the path to get to town B
and you could see the B boys and the B girls coming back the other way.
Not infrequently, because the path connected with other routes,
You would see people going to and from C and D
and sometimes you would even meet wild people from wild places
you never would have heard of.
One day, a spokesman from the Corporation
announced that they were building a long straight road
and, he said, from now on everyone should use it,
emphasising in his statement words such as
improvement, security, and efficiency.
The media were divided, the public sceptical.
Rumours spread that there would be checkpoints and toll gates
and that watchmen in watchtowers would record every journey
made along its tarmacked route,
for security, it was said,
and the rumours were not denied by the spokesman.
There were debates on TV about whether
the path or the road would be the future of travel
and there were even some protests outside the Corporation headquarters,
but most people shrugged, shook their heads and turned
the page to the sports section, or the celebrity gossip page,
finished their tea and went to work
along the path that was without toll gates or watchtowers
and which wound like a slow river between B and A,
“Let them build their road if they want to,
no one will use it, they’re wasting their money”
although slow to form, may be broken and reformed
and roads built over roads bury those ways that went before them
and the tracks that lie below them.
A policy think-tank, much in favour with the Corporation,
published a report on activities related to perception management,
aimed at bringing a misguided population back into the mainstream
and the spokesman announced an opening ceremony for the road.
There would be a football star and a glamour model,
A pop concert and a security contract,
which would provide temporary minimum wage jobs
for a number of unemployed people.
The protestors published pamphlets deriding the costs,
the loss of freedom and the change in power relations
and the media interviewed them and some seemed fairly sane.
But soon there were rumours of extremists who had hijacked a reasonable cause,
and police, who had tried to break up the ‘Keep the Path Alive’ rally,
had been met with violence and insults
and there were new debates on middle-class TV shows about the safety of the path,
what with its dark, overhung corners and the wild people who went past,
and “how would they afford the upkeep?” a famous presenter asked.
“Why don’t they build their own road? Or write a letter of complaint?”
And the campaign against the road was starting to look like a losing cause.
After all, the road did not lead from A to B. Nor from C to D,
but it would take people to entirely new places: from Here to There#
and back again.
And when a terrorist plot was unveiled and thankfully stopped
by the intelligence gathered among the informers who lived with the wild people,
it was decided that the path would be closed until the road’s opening ceremony was over.
And now there is no path,
no place called A or B,
no highwayman or wild women
and no way to C or D,
Just a tarmac road that stays its course
running from Here to There,
where watchtowers sprout like grey sunflowers
and the innocent have nothing to fear.
And there’s jobs inside the toll booth
To take the people’s change
or working for the boys with guns
to catch the gangs who mug the passing trade.
And some days, above, the sky is blue
and white wisps drift in crystal dance
sunlight catches a drop of dew
and perhaps you think, there was another path.