Its inherent properties are of little use
that either rhyme or reason can deduce.
It glitters and doesn’t rust. So does tinfoil,
so doesn’t lead.
It can’t be beaten either into swords or ploughshares
and brass serves as well for gilding public squares.
It can be coined and stamped with a king’s face
but so can paper, and it takes less space.
We, clever Europeans, once knew how to manage
its mythic lure to our advantage.
Sent our wooden ships across the sea
with plundered Inca gold to bewitch
a drowsy emperor and his Manchu minions.
Then homeward bound, athwart with silk and tea
and spices to tickle a sluggish Western palate.
We could have sent them useful stuff, beaver pelts
or teeming cod from our Grand Banks,
or proper trousers, or cuckoo clocks
to help them regulate their days. But no,
they wanted gold.
And so their empires crumbled—whether Ming,
Qing or Mughal—while ours ran riot, masters
of the meridians from Land’s End to Tienching.
For five centuries we ruled the world,
then they turned the tables on us. Now we
wheat, canola, oil and potash, Grade A
pork and beef, our whole lobster quota,
our finest vintage wines and goose-down parkas,
send us smartphones.
Erwin Wiens lives on Besserer St. in Sandy Hill