Money is such a treat.
It takes up so little space.
It takes no more ink
for the bank to print $9,998
than to print $1,001.
It flows, electronically;
it does not gather dust.
Like water, it (dis)solves everything.
Oceanic, it is yet as lucid
as a mountain pool; the depositor
can see clear to the sandy bottom.
It is ubiquitous and under pressure, yet
pennies don't drip from faucets.
Money is so tidy, so neat.
It is freedom in action: when you
give a twenty-buck bill to the cabbie,
you don't tell him how to spend it.
He can blow it on coke,
for all you care. All you care
about is your change. No wonder
the ex-Communists are dizzy. In
the old Soviet Union
there was nothing to buy,
nothing to spend. It was freedom
of a kind, but not our kind. We need
money, the dull electric thrill
when the automatic teller spits out
the disposable receipt.
Two railroads crossed here, making the depot
hot property for an army that could take it.
Grant won out, and rode the rails to Vicksburg.
The little city now, uncoveted
by any side, reposes in the hope
of Shiloh's bloody glamour rubbing off
as peaceful golddust-tourist traffic. This
veranda knew the boots of Beauregard
and of Ulysses, too. What epic times
when bayonet and cannonball dispersed
the souls of country boys in gray and blue!
An iron lozenge forged to fit the wheels
that roll east-west and north-south marks the spot
a throng died for. I stood there all alone.
Excerpted from Americana by John Updike. Copyright © 2001 by John Updike. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.