[with an apologetic hat tip to Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, and Gil Scott-Heron]

it's new, it's fun, it's improved,
it contains more vitamins

        every day in every way

farmer Tranh used to sell his daughter
to buy a water buffalo
so he could plough his field

now he sells his daughter
and the family gets a colour TV
a refrigerator, a microwave

         ain't progress wonderful?

farmer Wystan's son once went to war
to fight the Saracen at Accra
for the sake of Eastern spices

now our sons go to war
to fight the Saracen at Kabul and Baghdad
for the sake of Eastern oil

         every day in every way

our daughter is just as prostituted.
our son is just as dead.

         ain't progress wonderful?


we are better, cleaner, smarter,
healthier; we have more fun.

         every day in every way

the stinking kennels of Paris and Londres
ran with raw sewage, the river
stank from tannery and shambles.

the ignorant peasants, illiterate, primitive,
pissed and shat in the same river
they fished in and drank from.

         ain't progress wonderful?

modern people are civilised; we build
complex industrial plants to piss and shit
in our rivers for us

the stinking kennels of Hanford overflow
with the raw sewage of our murderous ambitions.
our faces are clean, our lungs and fat filthy

         every day in every way

our flush toilets are shining clean
there isn't a stream you can drink from

         ain't progress wonderful?


trust us, we're experts
we know what we're doing
we bring good things to life

         every day in every way

twenty years ago you could drink
from this stream, he said, assembling
the filter. can't do that today.
you need one of these.

         they say if you take a live frog

twenty years ago the fish was so thick here
he said leaning on the gunwale, the sea was
silver with the sun on them.
can't make a living at it now.

         and fill a saucepan with cold water

twenty years ago the well was good, she said
wearily, now we have to buy water, can you
imagine, buy water... and she almost laughs.

         and you put the frog in it and you

twenty years ago we could walk to the market,
he said ruefully, now that freeway...
you gotta drive three times as far now
just to get to the same place. crazy.

         turn the heat up very slowly

twenty years ago we worried about them cheating
on exams, she said, now we wonder if they're
carrying concealed weapons.

         very very slowly

twenty years ago this little calculator
would have cost you over a hundred bucks he said
proudly, ain't progress wonderful?

         the frog never realizes...

         ain't progress wonderful?

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage
so we are told. and we sold ours for what?

         a pocket calculator and a laptop,
         a bigger TV and an even bigger SUV
         a more colourful plastic wrapper
         a whiter toilet paper
         a shinier paint job
         a louder laugh track

but really, for the illusion of being

         however briefly

the most important people who ever lived

         the frog never realizes

         ain't progress wonderful?

         never realizes it's being boiled

         every day in every way

not even a mess of pottage...
just a mess

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De Clarke