weekly challenge: FINDING HOPE

By Sherry Marr

Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere (India)

 

Do not lose hope – we were made for these times. Look out over the prow; there are millions of righteous souls in the water with you. We have been training for a dark time such as this since the day we assented to come to earth.

When a great ship is moored and in the harbor, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. It is not given to us to know which acts…will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

— Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I am glad to note that this sage still believes in the transformation of consciousness on the planet. Whether before or after cataclysm, I suppose mankind will be forced to re-learn the Old Ways of being with the natural world.

Pam Houston, in her book Deep Creek, ponders: “How to be with the incandescent beauty of the iceberg without grieving the loss of polar bear habitat? How to hang on to that full-body joy and still understand it as elegy?”

That is the dilemma I find myself in. Exactly. Beauty / Elegy.

Pam says it is the best time to write odes to nature, when she is critically wounded at our hands. “I wait to feel a glimmer, a vibration, that says, ‘Hey writer, look over here.’ [It is the way] I have written every single thing I have written. It is also the primary way I worship, the way I kneel down and kiss the earth.”

Me, too. I was happy to read both of these quotes this past week and, especially, Pam Houston’s book.

Clarissa and Pam have put it into words far better than I ever could. These days I feel I am living with the two sides of my heart – joy and gratitude at the incredible beauty of the landscape around me, at the same time feeling such grief and guilt at what our species is doing to Mother Earth in this Age of Extraction.

How do we stay hopeful, yet not in denial, fully here in the present moment?

I have been in love with the natural world all my life, walking with head tipped back, and grinning at the sky. It is a hard thing to see her suffering. A friend, a lifelong environmentalist, told me once, “Mother Earth feels your pain. Let her feel your joy too.” I have always remembered that.

I marvel at how faithfully Mother Earth moves through her cycles, no matter what imbalances are happening. There is so much life everywhere! Everything in the natural world is trying so hard to live. Everywhere there is a wound, I watch little green tendrils begin to grow, to repair and heal the area. One of the lushest places on earth is Chernobyl, which began to thrive once all the humans were gone.

Indigenous people live with strict protocols for how they live upon the land. If they strip bark from a tree for basket making, they leave that tree alone for 150 years to heal. If they take one tree for building a canoe, they leave the entire forest alone for 250 years – they view clearcutting with horror. There is a great learning curve for us in their teachings.

Each walk on the beach fills me with awe. From the tiniest velellas to the wildest winter tides, Mother Earth is alive, constantly in a state of growth, renewal and healing. She needs us to give her some help. And many are doing so, all over the world.

Joanna Macy says “You are alive now for a reason. Because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart.”

An open heart means pain. But a closed heart that turns away doesn’t get anything done. Those of us who are strong enough are called to the work: of bearing witness, of sharing information, of protecting trees, of making conscious choices that help the earth. (In Tofino, we are boycotting buying the CoOp’s avocadoes, since they come from Mexico. Environmental activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez, who opposed destruction of habitat of the endangered Monarch butterfly for growing the green fruit, recently died, likely murdered, as have been 19 other environmental activists, killed by local cartels fighting over the avocado trade.)

One person can do a lot, as we see with Jadav Payeng of India, a poor farmer from a marginalized tribe, who spent thirty years planting trees, turning a barren area into a thriving forest, when he noted snakes were suffering and dying.  Or Seed Mother Rahibai Soma Papere of India, who protects and preserves India’s indigenous seeds, and encourages farmers to switch to local varieties.

Then, of course, there is Greta Thunberg, one small, humble girl, a clear-eyed truth-teller.

Each of these people gives me hope, showing how much one person, one voice, can do. I see our poems as part of that work – to celebrate and love the natural world, and, sometimes, to write poems that help others see what we see and begin to care, too. Our love of Mother Earth motivates us to do what we can to try to save her.

Perhaps the most hopeful thing of all is looking to the more spiritual side of life. Life is not just physical; when we remember we are Soul and Spirit, and that there has always been a spiritual dimension in all cultures since time began, perhaps therein lies our greatest hope. There is an energy at work in the world that we can align with and tap into. Through Spirit-Eyes, we can envision a more viable world: a world of sustainable practices, of social justice, of clean energy, of rebalancing the earth so all may live. This is how we were meant to live, in harmony with the natural world and other creatures. One way or the other, I believe we will re-learn how to do this. (The indigenous peoples of the world can teach us how.)  The transformation of consciousness is happening. The fact we are discussing this now, in a poetry forum, when five years ago this conversation would not be happening, tells me we are waking up. We are waking to difficult times, but we can clearly see what needs changing.

Today we’ll sing a hopeful song. Tomorrow maybe we will plant a tree! Or a garden that invites bees and butterflies to our yards. We might turn our front yard into a veggie garden, so we can eat local, without pesticides – and in case the system breaks down, as Tofino’s did the other week when the only road in through the mountains collapsed. (I plan to grow kale and scarlet runner beans on my tiny balcony this spring.)

The vastness and power of the sea, the cathedral of the old-growth forest, sunrises and sunsets beautiful enough to break your heart – so much to love! Let’s send our poems out like love songs. Love heals. And hope gives us strength for the days ahead.

How and where do you find hope? Write big picture, if you wish. Or find that tiny miracle that makes you catch your breath in awe. Let’s add our small push to the transformation of consciousness that is trying so hard to happen across the globe. I look forward to reading how you hold onto hope, and we invite you to join in the discussion in the comments section.

— Sherry

 

In earthweal weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday afternoons at 4 PM EST we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely

earthweal open link weekend #7

 

NOTE: Mr. Linky is working intermittently. If you can’t link there, include it in the comments section.

It’s open link weekend at earthweal. Link a poem using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location) and be sure to visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and comment. Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for the Monday’s weekly challenge.

On Feb. 17 Sherry Marr takes over the reins again with a challenge titled FINDING HOPE. We could sure use it!

Now ladies and gentlemen, start your earthy versey engines!

— Brendan

 

Albrecht Durer, “Melancholia,” 1514

 

It’s hot here in Florida for mid-February; everything is blooming in salvos of color and scent. Hardly a bane for in local creature comforts (we’re still months from full-tilt summer swelter) —but weather in the Anthropocene means the sweet spots have very wide margins. Some ways north of here, all this warmth is translating into heavy Gulf moisture, dumping state-sized jerricans of rain, rain, rain over the South. Lakes, ponds and streams are flooding, fish are showing up in submerged farm fields and millions of gallons of sewage is overflowing from compromised systems. Spring is coming early and fast, bringing with it the spectre of last year’s flooding event, where a million acres of Midwest farmland in nine states were inundated.

And in Australia (of late, climate change’s favorite punching bag), torrential rains are now rounding out a “triple whammy” of drought, wildfire and flooding, affecting rivers in the island nation’s eastern half and creating cascading impacts upon fish, invertebrates and platypus. “There’s a real risk of losing species that we have not even gotten around to describing yet,” said Prof. Ross Thompson, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology.

Lots to worry and grieve. (Current forecast is for 80 percent saline precipitation from weepy eyes.)

But this, too: Lots to look forward to as well. Meaning: There is hope!  You just have to know where to look for silver linings. Peer with care!

I gave Glenn Albrecht’s paper on solastalgia a second read this week; sure enough, I picked up several important points—for this forum, anyway— that I missed earlier.

First, the condition of solsastalgia suggests a treatment. Nostalgia can turned the other way toward a vision for sustainable future:

While some might respond to such stress with nostalgia and want to return to a past state/place where they felt more comfortable, others will experience solastalgia and express a strong desire to sustain those things that provide solace. Solastalgia, as opposed to atavistic nostalgia, can also be future orientated, as those who suffer from it might actively seek to create new things or engage in collective action that provides solace and communion in any given environment. Solastalgia has no necessary connection to the past, it may seek its alleviation in a future that has to be designed and created.  (My emphasis)

Solstalgia helps us celebrate a better future by sharpening our focus on the sustainable. Mental illness is structured in a way that reading it closely reveals the keys to returning from it. A schizophrenic takes a blue pill to live between the lines, the alcoholic reaches for a white chip of surrender. Australia’s burnt-beyond-all-recognition spaces show us the bitter fruit of residents abdicating civil responsibility and governments ruled by powers. Designing a better future is the cure for twenty-first century solastalgia.

To paraphrase Holderlin, the devil is in the details, but salvation is, too. As Jim Feeney put it in his contribution this week, solastalgia can be “a longing for light / hidden under a bushel / at the end of a tunnel.”

Second, though melancholy is a depressive disorder, it is also a disease common among creatives.  If Albrecht is correct in calling solastalgia “Anthropocene-era melancholia,” then there must be creative responses to it.

James Joyce’s daughter Lucia was a gifted dancer, but as a young adult she suffered from schizophrenia and was hospitalized frequently, ending up finally in an asylum until her death. After the publication of Ulysses in 1922, James Joyce spent the next 17 years diving into the verbal unconscious with his novel Finnegans Wake. In 1934, Carl Jung treated Lucia. After their appointment, Joyce asked the psychologist,: “Doctor Jung, have you noticed that my daughter seems to be submerged in the same waters as me?” to which he answered: “Yes, but where you swim, she drowns.”

That may be the difference between suffocating solastalgia and the melancholy which broods a better future.

Certainly here at earthweal, we mean to find out!

 

RAIN AT NIGHT

W.S. Merwin

This is what I have heard

at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moon
wind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind

after an age of leaves and feathers
someone dead
thought of this mountain as money
and cut the trees
that were here in the wind
in the rain at night
it is hard to say it
but they cut the sacred ‘ohias then
the sacred koas then
the sandalwood and the halas
holding aloft their green fires
and somebody dead turned cattle loose
among the stumps until killing time

but the trees have risen one more time
and the night wind makes them sound
like the sea that is yet unknown
the black clouds race over the moon
the rain is falling on the last place

from The Rain In The Trees (1988)

weekly challenge: SOLASTALGIA – Vanishing Homelands

Welcome to earthweal’s weekly poetry challenge.

This forum is dedicated to the varied responses to the climate emergency we are all now a part of. The root “-weal” in the title has three central meanings — “welt,” a land scarred by human intervention; “wealth,” the hope of a healed whole-earth community (like the word commonwealth, only critters and trees and rocks partake, too ); and “wale,” a binding element similar to the strip of metal used to bind a barrel or the gunwale of a ship, here as something to hold everything together. Earthweal is a place to both mourn and love a changing Earth. (For more, see the about earthweal page.)

In these weekly challenges, poets are asked to submit their perspective on global events in verse. Local flavor is especially welcome—include your state or country with your name in the link. The challenge launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday night we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely.

If SOLASTALGIA is all you need to start working on your poem, Mr Linky follows. A write on the theme follows.

 

After the fire on Kangaroo Island, Australia

 

SOLASTALGIA
Homesick For a Vanishing World

As one who moved around a lot in his earlier years, the eventual finding and making and sustaining of a place I call home has resulted in the most productive and happy chapters of my life.

The longing of my wandering years—a sea-like yearning that one day I might find lasting harbor—was a form of homesickness, much like that of an orphan hoping to one day to reconnect with a lost mother or father.

And now, having formed a deep sense of place over two decades of living at the same place in Central Florida, homecomings are always dear, whether it’s from coming back from a trip (as I did many times visiting my old father in Pennsylvania) or driving back home after another day working in an office at the far end of a commute. Weirdly, now that both father and job are gone, there is a strange homesickness for those places I was present in, too.

I’m very aware how fortunate I am and give thanks for it daily; it is a privilege I do not greatly deserve, and I understand how readily, randomly and viciously the Wheel can turn round the other way. But not today.

More than 65 million people world-wide are refugees, displaced from home and homeland due to political instability, much of that resulting from the disruptions of climate change. Very few—less than a hundred thousand—return to their homes every year, while an equal minute fraction find new homes in next countries. The rest remain in limbo, with no welcome behind or ahead of them. Pity the refugees from Central America fleeing farms no longer productive due to climate change and ravaging gangs; caught before the American border, they are sent to camps where they wait to be returned to the nothing and worse they left behind.

Magnified events displace magnified numbers from their homes. Last year when Tropical Cyclone Idai mowed into the coast of Mozambique, it was the worst storm in the country’s history. displacing 146,000 people, damaging 100,000 homes and destroying 1 million acres of crops. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia will generate some 143 more climate migrants, an estimated third of those on the move due to sudden disasters.

Climate change is deeply affecting the destinies of so many within the borders of our respective homelands. An estimated 2.1 million residents of South Florida alone will be forced to relocate due to rising seas, many of them relocating to where I live in Central Florida.  Local homelessness will swell as well due to continuing economic upheaval and widening drift of the privileged class away from the 95 per cent.

The homeless may become the defining demographic of the 21st Century.

What happens to the heart when one loses their home? Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and professor of sustainability, put it this way:

People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.

Albrecht observes that many native inhabitants—Australian aborigines and any number of indigenous peoples around the world—report this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced.

In the Anthropocene, there is another, perhaps more widespread disorientation, because all around the world people who haven’t moved are finding themselves homesick because their homeland is vanishing. So many feel this same sense of “place pathology,” not because they had been removed from home soil, but as their home communities are becoming ruined by development or becoming inhabitable due to climate change.

In a 2004 essay, Albrecht named this condition solastalgia, a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’” Albrecht called solastalgia is a depressive mental condition.

Solastalgia may be the melancholia of the Anthropocene, a hollowing homesickness in a sickening home.

Here in the United States, one can’t help but look on vast corporate farms of corn and soybeans stretching for thousands of acres while small towns across rural America empty out for lack of work; or drive through vast tracts of suburban blight wondering how anyone could feel at home there; or see the opioid epidemic as the cheapest and most devastating remedy to hopeless yearning for home, or witness the soaring suicide rate among both indigenous peoples, farm workers, middle aged displaced and the gig-economy young, and wonder what happened to the future.

There’s an African American church just outside of my town which has sat empty for decades since the last black residents moved away for lack of grove jobs or service work in old Southern homes. (All those groves are now being sold, at great profit, for New South housing development.) I drive by that church every day watching it slowly crumble down and back, wondering what happens to a community when its cornerstones vanish. What happens to the vision of observers like me.

How to treat this new melancholy? Albrecht suggests the following:

All of our emotional, intellectual and practical efforts (must) be redirected towards healing the rift that has occurred between ecosystem and human health, both broadly defined. In science, such a commitment might be manifest in the full redirection of scientific investment and effort to an ethically inspired and urgent practical response to the forces that are destroying ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. The need for an “ecological psychology” that re-establishes full human health (spiritual and physical) within total ecosystem health has been articulated by many leading thinkers worldwide. The full transdisciplinary idea of health involves the healing of solastalgia via cultural responses to degradation of the environment in the form of drama, art, dance and song at all scales of living from the bioregional to the global. The potential to restore unity in life and achieve genuine sustainability is a scientific, ethical, cultural and practical response to this ancient, ubiquitous but newly defined human illness.

Whatever ground Professor Albrecht has covered since, hopefully it will have some value and use today as Australians look at their hot, burning, increasingly inhabitable homeland and wonder where there is to go.

Write a new poem on the theme of Solastalgia. What’s it like to be homesick in a sick land, particularly your own? What are you refugee from?  How does your life intersect with migrant humanity, with the homeless, with homeowners who have no home in the future? What is the healthy and sustainable road out from solastalgia? What’s the report, the witness, from your neck of the woods? Maybe we can cobble together here a global witness.

Find out what solastalgia looks and feels like to you: Then bring your discoveries to earthweal.

— Brendan

Postscript

Thank God for Holderlin: Where danger grows, salvation too is on the increase.

Peter Matthiessen’s novel In Paradise, published just after his death in 2014 at age 86,  explores solastalgia in a gas oven. Set in Poland in the mid-1990s, it follows a meditation retreat in the death-camp of Auschwitz. For three days, people of various national, religious and philosophical bent meditate and attempt to bear ecumenical “witness” to one of the most horrifying relics of Nazi Germany’s final solution to racial impurity and the end of a long road from home for some 1 million Jews.

Over the course of this night sea journey Matthiessen raises and dispenses many questions: Can any but a survivor of the death camp experience can bear true witness to what happened there? Can there be any legitimate response to a place of annihilation? And can any true voice or presence of holocaust can still be “at home” there, in one of the most homeless way-stations in human history?

Tough questions, and Matthiessen is sparing in his answers. Auschwitz is what it is, and no one living passes through that morgue of the spirit without catching its chill. A rabbi leads participants in the Kaddish or Prayer for the Dead at the Black Wall, where some 30 to 40 thousand prisoners were shot to death in the early years of the camp. “It is the voice of the living calling out prayer across the void to the nameless, numberless dead who do not answer,” he says. Most of Matthiessen’s answers are calibrated by that silence.

But Matthiessen observes this: After three days of meditation, prayer, encounter and hard debate among the participants in this Hadean harrow of death, many felt a homesickness as they were leaving—as if by making space for inhumanity and death inside themselves, their humanity was enlarged. “The only whole heart is the broken heart, but it must be fully broken,” another rabbi says that in the shadowy gloom of the Oven—and strangely, on the last night they are there, those utterly broken by the encounter find themselves suddenly dancing, like children at recess, as if they had come home at last. It’s an utterly unexpected gift, hilarious, profane, perfect.

What do we know about the heart, that compass whose pole star ever points us toward home? Even in its darkness, solastalgia offers orienting truths.

SEARCHING FOR PITTSBURGH

Jack Gilbert

The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night,
between the liver and the stomach. Comes to the heart
and hesitates. Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.
Goes deeper, searching for what remains of Pittsburgh
in me. The rusting mills sprawled gigantically
along three rivers. The authority of them.
The gritty alleys where we played every evening were
stained pink by the inferno always surging in the sky,
as though Christ and the Father were still fashioning
the Earth. Locomotives driving through the cold rain,
lordly and bestial in their strength. Massive water
flowing morning and night throughout a city
girded with ninety bridges. Sumptuous-shouldered,
sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable.
All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted graces.
A city of brick and tired wood. Ox and sovereign spirit.
Primitive Pittsburgh. Winter month after month telling
of death. The beauty forcing us as much as harshness.
Our spirits forged in that wilderness, our minds forged
by the heart. Making together a consequence of America.
The fox watched me build my Pittsburgh again and again.
In Paris afternoons on Buttes-Chaumont. On Greek islands
with their fields of stone. In beds with women, sometimes,
amid their gentleness. Now the fox will live in our ruined
house. My tomatoes grow ripe among weeds and the sound
of water. In this happy place my serious heart has made.

from The Great Fires (1995)

Portions of this week’s challenge were adapted from a 2017 prompt I wrote for Imaginary Garden With Real Toads

earthweal open link weekend #6

Welcome to Earthweal’s open link weekend. Our verse hootenanny revs up here every Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, short or long, new or old.

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where on Earth you post from.

Be sure to visit your fellow poets and comment. Discussion as what on Earth your fellows are writing about is a renewable source; treat it as such.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday.

The next weekly challenge will be SOLASTALGIA (Homesick in a Changed World).

Your fruitful and communal conversation is also welcome in the comments section.

—Brendan

 

A convention center in Wuhan, China, converted into a temporory hospital, Feb. 6, 2020.

Yesterday the weather in Florida turned changeful—unseasonably warm for February (hitting a high of 87) and the wind picking up with surprising force. A big front strolled across the US Midwest, muscular and foreboding with winter snow, hail and tornadoes; as it made its way toward the Southeast of which Florida is a part, fulsome Gulf heat and moisture pumped up the southern tail of the front into a nasty line of storms. They mowed over our house last night around midnight in a fury of wind and lightning and thunder and rain. Fortunately there were no twisters as the whipping tails of these fronts can produce, like the pack of twisters on Groundhoug Day 2007 which raked Central Florida, lifting mobile homes skyward and killing 23, or the one which concentrated just on this town in 1993, damaging some 2,000 trees, many of them stately old oaks planted when this town was founded a century ago.

Six hours after the front roared through—as I now work on this post—the winds are still battering the neighborhood, weaving and whipping and roaring in the trees. These sorts of events aren’t all that unusual in Florida, but there is an added edge, a louder volume, a greater velocity to it.

They say everything is big in Texas, but in the 21st century ACE, climate change is making everything everywhere bigger.

And fast. Many areas around the world are dealing with cascading impacts of climate change. Take Australia, where areas ravaged by monster wildfires are rolling out further effects with fish kills from ash runoff and floods from torrential rains. Traditional and modern practices of fire control are seeming less likely to help with high and higher heat, burning on such scale and fire seasons extended further through the year.

Scientists now observe that climate change is causing the oceans to speed up. Winds are blowing harder, speeding surface ocean currents. One noticeable effect in the Pacific Ocean is the creation of hot spots which have been devastating to ocean life. These ocean changes were surprising to the scientists, they hadn’t expected to see such results for another 50 years. It’s similar to the acceleration of other predictions of earth impacts from climate change.

The big heat and fires are coming sooner, glaciers are melting faster, hurricane seasons are ramping bigger and faster every year (last year’s Hurricane Dorian would have been declared a Category 6 storm had such a category existed. The other day Antarctica recorded its warmest temperature on record—64 degrees F. The poles are melting at a record pace.

Is it weird to you that events on a geologic scale are irrupting so quickly into our already-speeding human time? Watching a glacier melt away in time-lapse is a dislocating experience. But observing dozens of events unfolding on a global scale in daily human time is somewhat like watching the seven days at the Creation in a biblical flip-book.

Speed used to be a novel human invention (think of those speed racing trials in the Bonneville Salt Flats), but now the world is outpacing us. This is especially worrying in the spread of novel coronavirus, which started with an infected snake or a bat on sale in an outdoor wild game market in Wuhan, China, leapt onto a peddler and fanned out from there. Even with the most stringent state controls, in a month we’re anxiously calculating the chances of global pandemic.

The carrier?  A fleet-footed humanity who travels at will and can sail or fly anywhere in the world.

And we thought the Australian bushfire horror was big enough … Nothing is big which can’t be overwhelmed by something else in the Anthropocene.

 

The Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans), an invasive species now pillaging Florida reef systems.

 

Introduced by human travel and trade, invasive species threaten ecosystems all over the world, Hogs were brought to South Florida in 1539 by the Spanish explorer DeSoto. Over time they roamed, went feral, and now root through agricultural areas like rototillers, causing some $800 million in agricultural damage every year. Lionfish are beautiful additions to the tropical aquarium, but somehow they got into the Atlantic Ocean around 1985 (flushed down a toilet, probably) and have become voracious reapers of Florida reef ecologies. Burmese Pythons make strange pets (but then, consider their keeper); escaped or abandoned ones made it into the Florida Everglades where they have flourished, resulting in mammoth declines of small mammals like raccoons and white-tailed deer. Florida newspapers routinely publish photos of state-appointed hunters holding up trophy pythons approaching 17 feet long, but what goes unreported is how the Everglades ecosystem is changing under the rule of this new apex predator—more turtles, apparently (raccoons who favored their eggs are gone), and different plants growing because there are fewer mammals to dispense seeds through their feces. Who knows.

Truly though, humanity is most invasive species of all, covering the globe like kudzu and shaping  it for purely human use. We’ve hunted megafauna to extinction, overfished the ocean, polluted the skies with fossil fuel exhaust, ruined landscapes with chemical farming and covered the rest with asphalt. Even near space is getting to be a mess with drifting pieces of debris from our 50 years of space exploration.

In 200 years we’ve managed to set the global clock back 50 millions years. That’s a strange accomplishment, engineering a way into geologic time, re-shaping our Earth so much that our near- and long-term climate future is now in our hands. Will our fate be that of hothouse Venus? Some of that depends on how hard and fast humanity tips the balance in the decades to come. For now—for us, here—we have a chance to emotionally and aesthetically calibrate that speed from our various lives and locales, that heart and art may perceive what may be too fast for human eyes.

In my morning reading I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s collected poems as well as foraging in a very different volume, Reginald Dwayne Betts’ Felon. Berry has so much to say about damage and renewal—deep, abiding stuff. Betts has something equally important to say about damage and renewal. Reginald, who is African-American, served time in prison many years ago for a robbery he committed while still a teen. After his release he went to Yale to study law, became a public defender and kept writing poems.

Slavery was an invasive thought introduced to the New World with a vengeance, and as many as 60 million Africans died during their indentured labor. Four hundred years later its poisoned rootstock still finds ways to darken the American mind, in shadowy ways we hardly can acknowledge. As Michelle Alexander wrote her 2010 book The New Jim Crow, mass incarceration of black men using draconian drug laws passed in the 1980s has kept generations of black America in jail. Civil rights may have been granted in ’60s, but the shackles are still there.

Betts is deeply aware of how both his crime and the gulag of punishment he was thrown into has shaped his identity—the appellation of “felon” affects and afflicts every good thing to follow—and his message here, I think, is that renewal is neither easy or sure, and the product which survives may be unlike any poetry we have before known:

Sometimes you need a dark astringent to see clearly. This, from Betts’ “Essay on Re-Entry” from the collection:

…Nothing can be denied. Not the gun
that delivered you to that place where
you witnessed the images that won’t
let you go. Catfish learning to subtract,
his eyes a heroin-slurred mess;
Blue-Black doing backflips in state boots,
the D.C. kid that killed his cellmate.

Jesus. Barely older than you, he
had on one of the white undershirts
made by other men in prison, boxers, socks
that slouched, shackles gripping his shins.
Damn near naked. Life waiting.

Outside your cell, you could see them wheel
the dead man down the way. The pistol

you pressed against a stranger’s temple
gave you that early morning & now,
boxes checked have become your North Star,
fillip, catalyst to despair. Death
by prison stretch. Tell me. What name for
this thing that haunts, this thing we become.

From Felon (2019)

I don’t know why this pairs so well with a favorite Wendell Berry poem of mine, but it does:

TO KNOW THE DARK

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

from Farming: A Hand Book

Maybe we have to grow different eyes to see what’s really going on these days. This thing that haunts, this thing we become. A novel coronavirus, a hot Antarctic, roaring winds outside my window today—: It all comes at us fast. Better write something down before tomorrow.

Hard winds still blowing outside the window. When it gets light I need to collect the tarp which blew off the garage roof and pick up debris. We didn’t have to fire up the generator I bought last summer for the increasing likelihood of occasions like this, which is good. But the year is early.

weekly challenge: RENEWAL

Fireweed is a native plant that’s found throughout the temperate northern hemisphere including some areas in the boreal forests. It earned its name because this plant is the first colonizer in the soil after forest fires.

 

Welcome to earthweal’s fifth weekly poetry challenge. We have covered some difficult themes—fire, ghosts, water, animals. Today we switch gears somewhat and focus on Renewal: How is your world opening new doors?

In these themed prompts, poets are asked to submit a poem with local perspectives on global events and / or illustrate it through the lens of your artistic expression and development. The weekly forum launches first thing Monday (EST) and remains open until Friday afternoon. Feel free to contribute multiple times if it magnifies the theme.

Friday night we launch an open link weekend where poets are invited to contribute more widely.

If RENEWAL is all you need to start working on your poem, Mr Linky follows. A write on the theme follows.

 

RENEWAL

My job was eliminated by my company this past week, and for the first time in 40 years I’m unemployed. I saw it coming and have a parachute of sorts for the time being—we’ll be fine. I bring it up here because what I’m going through personally has a lot to do with this week’s theme of Renewal.

Having reached the end of one career in the collapsing newspaper industry, I’m starting over. I have a chance to take stock and look at what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s possible I can retire (though I would like to keep working). I can get involved in things locally I couldn’t when I was a full time commuting worker drone—volunteer, or maybe run for the seat for my district on city council. Some things I have to let go of—that daily New York Times, and a favorite AA meeting in Orlando—but then I won’t be forced to continue the guilty necessity of consuming so much fossil fuel for a 250-mile weekly commute.

Still, I feel like one self has been burned to the ground. Fire is a natural occurrence in many forest ecosystems; it clears out old and overgrown vegetation and recycles nutrients back into the soil. Old life goes away, new life returns. What’s next? Nothing is very clear right now but what has been lost.

(Not all forest ecosystems respond well to fire; rainforests are vulnerable and we’re seeing swaths of the Amazon forest turning toward dryer savannah conditions, with more grass and less trees. Climate change is also affecting the Australian wilderness; its growing too hot and dry for forests. Tipping points make renewal a different story, one which is unpredictable.)

Renewal is an organic process, and to participate in it is a form of husbandry, as Wendell Berry writes.

SOWING

In the stilled place that once was a road going down
from the town to the river, and where the lives of marriages grew
a house, cistern and barn, flowers, the tiled stone of borders,
and the deeds of their lives ran to neglect, and honeysuckle
and then the fire overgrew it all, I walk heavy
with seed, spreading on the cleared hill the beginnings
of green, clover and grass to be pasture. Between
history’s death upon the place and the trees that would have come
I claim, and act, and am mingled in the fate of the world.

—from Farming: A Hand Book (1969)

Ergo, my renewal and the world’s are part of the same act. There are many human transformations underway in the 21st century—dramatic and subtle, some for the better, others for the worse. Through history I am invested in a certain transit, or thought I was. But many things are changing, and the husbandry (and, yes, mid-wifery) of that is difficult. But it will be done.

Thomas Kineally, an Australian novelist (Schindler’s List), published an op-ed on Feb. 1 for the Australian edition of The Guardian on climate change and wildfire in Australia. Facing the growing possibility of an uninhabitable continent due to heat and fire, Kineally exhorted the denialist government of Scott Morrison to wake up to new possibilities. ” After our long glorying in minerals, it is promised that, if it wishes, Australia can be a leader in the new post-fossil-fuel world. It is a destiny our politicians seem unwilling to embrace, but they may have to.”

“For the fires have changed us,” he concluded. “Perhaps we, too, need fire to germinate an essential concept.”

Renewal is found in the ashes, there lies the germinating concept. But what does renewal look like?

As Heraclitus said, nothing can be properly named which is not first fully separated; Rage and Grief need their mosh-pit, so to speak. We have seen plenty of both here. But is that work an end in itself? Such poems eventually run out of oxygen, rope or ledge. I’m not sure what comes after, but it can be envisaged.

Maybe we start with something small.

BEING SAVED

William Stafford

We have all we need, some kind of sky and maybe
a piece of river. It doesn’t take much more
if your ghost remembers the rest, how Aunt Flavia
called the cows in the evening, and there wasn’t
anything coming down the road except a Ford
now and then, or a wagon with a lantern.

You could smell a little hay just to remind
the wind that sunlight would come back, and that
Heaven waited somewhere even if you couldn’t see it.
I don’t care now if the world goes backward—
we already had our show before the tornado came,
and somehow I feel in my hand all we ever held,
a ticket, a compass, a piece of iron,
our kind of pardon.

from Even In Quiet Places (1996)

For this week’s challenge, submit a poem about RENEWAL.  What does renewal look like in a vastly changing world? What is worth saving? Does one have to read the ashes to see it? Is it dreamlike in possibility? What other clues are there in our present situation? What is it like to begin?

Here’s to Renewal! Start writing!

—Brendan

earthweal open link weekend #5

Welcome to the mosh pit in the vale! Earthweal’s linking whamarama blasts off on Friday afternoon at 4 PM EST.  Share a poem, short or long, new or old, bluey or yahooey. Throw us a rope, for hope or nope!

Click on the Mr. Linky link which follows to add your link. Add your location after your name in the link so we know where on Earth you post from.

Be sure to visit your fellow poets and comment. Discussion as what on Earth your fellows are writing about is a renewable source; treat it as such.

Links will be accepted through Sunday night, followed by a Monday challenge focused on some aspect of our changing Earth and lasting til Friday.

Since the early earthweal challenges have all been an uphill slog into wrong & wronger, this coming Monday we shift gears with a challenge on Renewal.

Your fruitful and communal conversation is also welcome in the comments section.

—Brendan

 

regrowth

 

Deep thanks and gratitude to Sherry Marr for her Animals of Climate change challenge here last week. It was a difficult challenge for many, but contributions were rich and diverse—quite a habitat for song. The animal toll from a violently changing atmosphere is immense—how to conceive of a billion animals lost to Australian wildfire, a million seabirds to ocean heat, whole ecosystems erased due to human intervention? One dead koala bids a thousand grieving poems; is there any way possible to sing the entire vanished population? Maybe our plural voices helped register the lament.

Some complained of how wearying and depressing it was to even try to write a poem under such weight. Silence is certainly one option, as much out of personal survival as not wishing to add to the burden of all.

But many of you did respond—it one of the richest forums for posting and comment at this new forum so far—and the result was love and grief and anger and sadness all reflected in a suffering animal’s eye.

Hard work, and it begs a difficult question: Why even bother? Does staring directly into catastrophe do anything to relieve suffering or provide hope?

It’s a good question, and the responses I’ve searched for are fragmentary at best.

First, we may not have much of a choice. It’s getting harder to find a space where poems can grow unaffected by climate change. Whether the prevailing winds of cultural mood are changing, or its weather driven by climate change, the interior landscape we write by seems less and less free to roam the former occupations of love, liquorish and languor. It’s said that when you make love to a 600 pound gorilla, the sex is over when the ape decides; climate change won’t go away, and the world it is remaking is the one we have to make poetry in.

The news has developed the ostinato cadence of catastrophe—what a week! Coronovius from a game market in China, volcanic eruptions in the Philippines and New Zealand, earthquakes in the Carribbean, flooding in Jakarta, wildfires edging close and closer to Australia’s parliament in Canberra as temperatures soar again. And now parts of Brazil are experiencing the most torrential rainfall ever recorded, with city streets turning into rivers and landslides knocking houses off cliffs and burying shanty towns. Meanwhile the jet stream wobbles ever more wildly as the Arctic melts causing unseasonable heat and cold; dangerous amounts of methane releases from melting permafrost as well as who knows what viruses, sunny day floods in coastal cities around the world, the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica melting fast and faster, Venice flooding, water shortages in major cities: Who doesn’t know the litany?

But where it once seemed like news from far away, indiscriminate events bring disaster nearer to us all—maybe not directly, but rounding ever closer.  Far fewer feel safe, and less have much confidence that the future will see any improvement. Why wouldn’t our poetry be similarly stained and strained, even maimed by such constantly darkening skies?

Should poetry be a haven from that—hunkering down into whatever relative comforts can be found elsewhere at hand? I could tell you about my history, my bad thirst, my love and loves, the grace of semi-wild things curled in my lap as I write: All noble topics, but is that really the news any more? Worse, do my occupations farther afield start to bear the ironic drone of the merely selfish, that very quality which now burns Australia and renders the poor of Brazil helpless against the assault of floodwater?

OK, but isn’t there a cost in writing for too long or deeply exposed to such harsh radiation? Despair of the theme of a damaged, fouling and heating Earth can become a telltale leitmotif, tocking inexorably like the footfalls of a reaping shadow. Lah de dah. What life that is still in us can feel squelched and drained. I sometimes wonder about themes which used to absorb me which I can’t find much interest in writing about. Where did my interest in them go? Maybe it’s true that I’m just getting to be an old poet whose drone suffices but cannot add; Helen Vendler once said that the peril of the lyric poet is a finite aging self. But then maybe the divining rod is pulling me toward a work I barely grasp. It feels like dying, but it also may mean renewal. New poems at least …

We can take climate change as a call to grow in ways we haven’t been willing to before. We can record nature with more love and devotion to think in its way, cherish what still remains.

I can become a more faithful disciple of the difficult, a quality which has always aided poets in writing better poems. Imagine a forum where that work is essential.

Besides, I owe something to the dead—remembrance, redress, amends—making the effort to numerate the species lost, elegize days which won’t return, listen to the lament of ghosts on a cold night’s breeze. The contributions this week to Sherry’s challenge brought us polar bears and river dolphins, wild horses and orcas, butterflies and joeys and careening birds: I’m grateful there is soapbox for that choir.

I also owe something to the future. Doubtful that anything I say or said will endure, I am still part of the moment’s conversation which others down the road—to future generations who will have to contend with ever-more dramatic losses—who will examine cultural remnants like this, asking, Did they know? Did they speak out? Was their grief loud enough to have the resonance of apology? Was their work an amends? Did it have enough substance for forgiveness, or at least was willing to be target for rage?

Most importantly, such poetry would be suffocating and pointless if it were only about a common problem and peril. We all can see where this is going. Is there also a common solution? Poets are solitary animals, singing alone on distant branches: community and communion we have more with dead poets than our living fellows. Poetry is also a vanishing art in the age of brassy online noise. The world is vanishing too. Can poetry be a celebration of both the living and the dead, the blooming and failing world?

We can all see pretty well how we got here and grieve the resulting affects. But does the work stop there? Nature is a cycle of death and renewal; is there a way of working poetry through its despair into an embrace of new possibilities? Jedidiah Purdy writes in After Nature: A Politics of the Anthropocene,

It is true that climate change, so far, has outrun the human capacity for self-restraint. As greenhouse-gas levels rise and the earth’s systems shift, climate change has also begun to overwhelm the very idea that there is a “nature” to be saved or preserved. If success means keeping things as they are, we have already failed, probably irrevocably. This is why climate change is the emblematic problem of the Anthropocene: It is both a driver and a symbol of a thoroughly transformed world.

We need new standards for shaping, managing, and living well in a transformed world. Familiar ideas of environmental failure and success will not reliably serve anymore. We should ask, of efforts to address climate change, not just whether they are likely to “succeed” at solving the problem, but whether they are promising experiments—workable approaches to valuing a world that we have everywhere changed, and to thinking how we will change it next. Climate change gives us a model of how familiar approaches to environmental problems can break down, and how the problems that disintegrate those familiar approaches can become the seedbed of new approaches. The old adage was never truer or more relevant: we make the road by walking. (249)

Can our weal turn a welted world into a well of new possibilities? It’s what the old shaman-poets did: made wombs out of wounds. Our words can become new worlds.

A poem by Wendell Berry suggest how to crack that door and begin to see what’s next:

THE SUPPLANTING

Wendell Berry

Where the road came, no longer bearing men,
but briars, honeysuckle, buckbush and wild grape,
the house fell into ruin, and only the old wife’s daffodils
rose in spring among the wild vines to be domestic
and to keep the faith, and her peonies drenched the tangle
with white bloom. for a while in the years of its wilderness
a wayfaring drunk slept clinched to the floor there
in the cold nights. And then I came, and set fire
to the remnants of the house and shed, and let time
hurry in the flame. I fired it so that all
would burn, and watched the blaze settle on the waste
like a shawl. I knew those old ones departed
then, and I arrived. As the fire fed, I felt rise in me
something that would not bear my name—something that
bears us
through the flame, and is lightened of us, and is glad.

from Farming: A Hand Book (1970)

weekly challenge: THE ANIMALS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

By Sherry Marr

It has been a hard month, with kangaroos and koalas burning, suffering and dying in the Australian wildfires. Due to drought (and unregulated corporations buying up fresh water sources), rivers are drying up. Thousands of platypus have perished, among the billion beings lost.  I nearly lost it when someone proposed shooting 10,000 camels “because they drink too much water.” Typical human thinking: as if we are the only species that matters.

The exhaustion and gratitude in this orphaned baby joey’s face pierces my soul. The wild creatures lived in harmony with the natural laws of Mother Earth until the last couple of hundred years, when the dominant species began extracting more than our share of resources. Humankind is too slow to recognize that we are all interconnected. What the wild things are experiencing now, we will experience too, likely sooner than we expected. In fact, many of us are already climate refugees, as the cascade effect accelerates.

Governments are too slow to act. “Economic interests” still come first, as global systems falter and wreak havoc.

The animals are suffering all over the world: remember Tahlequah in 2018, carrying her dead calf on her nose for seventeen days of grief we shared. Near me, on the West Coast of Canada, wild salmon stocks, infected by fish farm pollution, are dying; the result is starving whales and bears, and collapsing ecosystems. Grey whales are washing up with stomachs full of plastic; dolphins are trapped in driftnets. A million seabirds were killed in the hot waters of the Pacific Blob.

The numbers of creatures suffering and dying is too vast for comprehension.

Up north, polar bears are dying excruciatingly slowly of starvation; photos show only their empty skin left behind in the spots where they finally mercifully perished. Habitat and food sources are running out for the wild ones. Last fall, a mother bear and her three cubs searching for food  in a city suburb near me were shot as they tried to flee back into the forest. Bees, that pollinate our crops, are disappearing.

Did you see the recent photo of the orangutan trying to physically fight the bulldozer that was destroying his habitat to grow palm oil? He reminded me of the lone young man facing the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Courage born of desperation.

We now know that the lives of animals in factory farms are horrendous. We need a movement just to liberate them, and return to small sustainable farming. Without pesticides. Animal agriculture is one of the biggest sources of CO2.

This listing could push us right into despair, and heaven knows my heart breaks every day for the animals. But we need to feel there is hope, and my heart lifts at the people rising up to care for the injured animals in Australia, and the many raising funds to help them heal. The best in human nature is always evident during times of crisis, clear evidence that we humans can – and must – find a better way to co-exist with the other beings on this planet.

There is much we can do, individually and collectively, to help the animals of climate change. We can donate, we can care, we can push for legislation to protect the wild ones. We can choose a more plant-based diet. We can write poems.

Today let’s speak for the animals. We can look at the big picture, which is devastating, and requires human action, human change. Or we can take whatever creature speaks to us, whatever struggle has captured our hearts in these past weeks, and write about that. The animals are crying out to us for help.  Big blessings to those humans on the ground who are helping the helpless, terrified creatures of climate change.

(In future prompts, I will look for good things happening to reverse climate change, as well. Stay tuned. I won’t always be depressing. But the animals are always first in my heart in perilous times, because they have no voice, and they are suffering because of us.)

In hope, and love for the animals,

Sherry

Sherry Marr posts from Tofino on Vancover Island, off British Columbia and the west coast of Canada. She is the first to submit a guest weekly challenge and will be back. The earthweal weekly challenge runs from Monday through Friday afternoon; then at 4 PM EST an open link weekend kicks off.  Feel free to contribute multiple times if helps scale the theme.Include your posting location on Earth, include a link back to this challenge somewhere in your post and be sure to read and comment on your fellows’ posts. We carry this work together.