earthweal open link weekend #27

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend #27! Pop a cork and light a sparkler by linking a poem that best suits your own theme or mood, be it new or one of your greatest hits. Include your location in your link so we get a feel for the breadth of global reportage. And be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment!

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for next Monday’s weekly challenge. Sarah Connor takes up the reins this time with one titled LOOKING FOR A NEW HIERARCHY. You know will find it stimulating, fun and rewarding—poetic meat and a hoot.

Now everybody start linking!

— Brendan

 

A family in the flood-hit district of Assam in north-east Assam, June 29, 2020. Photo: PTI

 

Summer is in full swelter now, from Florida up to the Arctic. Dangerous heat indexes are forecast this weekend for the Gulf coast region of the US, with 100-degree heat across Texas and storms ratcheting across the Northern Gulf with tropical storm potential. Not hotter, though, than the Arctic circle, where a 6-month heat wave is fast melting summer ice and balding back massive tracts of permafrost. Elsewhere, southern China has seen 31 straight days of torrential rainfall, with reservoirs and dams giving out and some 15 million residents affected. Yangshuo, a tourist town known for its stunning mountain vistas, experienced a once-in-two-centuries burst of heavy rain on June 7. Flooding from heavy rainfall is also affecting the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, with 1.5 million residents in 2,000 villages affected. The flooding is hampering efforts to contain the Baghdan oil well fire which has been burning since June 9.

Though all of these events resulting from a heating climate are disturbing, the Arctic heatwave is the perhaps the most troublesome. The Arctic is warming twice as a fast as the rest of the world—much faster than scientists though it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The high of 38 degrees Celsius (just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded on June 20 in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, just north of the Arctic Circle, was the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, some 30 degrees F higher than previous recorded highs. If our climate had been stable, it would have been classified as 1-in-a-100,000-year event, but Arctic heating is nothing but an unproar.

On June 19, ground surface temps of 45C (113F) were recorded across the region—that’s 113F—ground temps are usually higher than air temperatures we normally see in weather analysis—but imagine that kind of heat on permafrost and sea ice. We saw that with the May 31 collapse of a Russian oil tank in Siberia due to melting permafrost, spilling some 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the nearby Ambarnaya River. The spill was two-thirds the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, but the news was fleeting amid so many other catastrophes concurrent in our daily world.  (Like a COVID pandemic which, thanks to folks like us dum dum US citizens stuck in a spiraling first wave, is threatening to soon mount a second worldwide wave…)

  

siberian heat

Land surface temperatures (LST) in Siberia, June 19, 2020

 

Still, think of it: if global warming at 1.1 degrees C above the norm is producing this— and doing it at a speed we hadn’t expected for decades— what does that bode for our future? Current projections of staying within 2C of warming are withering fast; one analysis puts those chances now at .3 percent if Trump is defeated in November. (And if he wins re-election? .1 percent, or one in 1,000).

An Australian climate scientist still recovering from continent-engulfing wildfires earlier this year writes of an updated forecast of warming in Australia (based on 20 forecast models) of 4.5 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century, with a range between 2.7 and 6.2 degrees Centigrade. The 2 degree target is now forecast to pass around 2040. “If the new models turn out to be right, there is no way we can adapt to the catastrophic level of warming projected for a country like Australia,” he writes.

Some of our most precious ecosystems will never recover, including some of what was destroyed in Australia during our Black Summer. Gutted landscapes will struggle on, trying to regain some semblance of an equilibrium. But the truth is the destruction we have unleashed will reverberate throughout the ages.

We are witnessing the unthinkable. Facing the unimaginable.

The hard learning the United States is getting in Pandemic Essentials 101—what a failure here, especially in states like Florida where I live (10,100 new cases yesterday, a nationwide record and helping the US to set a new global record of 55,000 new cases for the day)—repeats an old lesson from my oracular blog namesake St. Oran: The way you think it is is not the way it is at all. Straight commonsense thinking doesn’t do much good when you’re playing 3D chess with the Devil. (What does that do to poetry of the heart, we have wondered.)

As an epidemiologist recently explained in a series of tweets, it isn’t the number of daily COVID tests related to test positivity rate which concerned her (the one I’ve thought refuted folks like Vice President Mike Pence’s complaint that testing is causing the pandemic), but what is swimming behind that data. “What we see in states like Florida is a sharp rise in the numbers of new cases,” she Tweeted. “It is the pace of growth that alarms me, and the fact that positivity is rising along with it. As policy hasn’t changed over the last few weeks, what stops it from rising more?” The shadow in the swarm in negative reverse is a diving peregrine falcon—how fast this COVID now spreads.

Similarly, the pace of climate change revealed in the current Arctic heatwave belies the simple linear graph of rising carbons and heat. David Wallace-Wells writes,

Making sense of climate change requires more than trying to determine where on a particular linear plot we are and where on it we are likely to be in ten years, or in fifty. It may require more profoundly revising our sense of linearity itself. In this way, global warming isn’t just scrambling our sense of geography, with Verkhonaysk, at least briefly, playing the role of Miami. It is also scrambling our sense of time. You may feel, because of the pandemic, that you are living to some degree in 1918. The arctic temperatures of the past week suggest that at least part of the world is living, simultaneously, in 2098.

Remember the Clockwork Green challenge here back in February? We tried to make sense of the asynchronous coincidental speeding wheelworks of climate change. It was dizzy stuff, and a theme which underlies news of five five-hundred year floods in Houston over the past five years or a hundred-thousand year heat event in the Arctic Circle, followed by what’s to come in a 2 or 3 or 4C hotter climate arriving faster than anyone believes (and exactly the way COVID feasts on beliefs). Wallace-Wells again:

Perhaps the most important lesson of the freakish Siberian heatwave is: However terrifying you find projections of future warming, the actual experience of living on a heated planet will be considerably more unpredictable, and disorienting.

Well, that’s what we’re here for, folks, shelter from upside-down storm and welcome to a bedraggled sense of things. Maybe what we struggle to say comes from the Earth itself. Great essay about the melt of Siberian permafrost by Heather Altfeld, “The Magical Substratum,” appearing in Earth Elegies, #73 in Bard College’s bi-annual Conjunctions series and published in 2019. (Sure wish I could find an online link, but sorry.) Daniel Fisher, a professor of paleontology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, tells her,

We have translated the eco-crises in the Arctic into our own terms—terms that make sense to us, statistics of melt and temperature change, empiric projections—but these terms do not represent the animistic view of native Siberians. Our scientific terms to not capture the actual problem, which the Siberians would say is one of great disruption to the land’s spirit. The eco crisis we are experiencing involves many souls, because the land has a spirit, and if it is angry, and it can’t be appeased, then what are they supposed to do?

Altfeld reflects,

What is the point, then, between a cosmology that centers around the natural world, and one that centers around our importance in it? It is this: If the personification of an animal or a tree gives us the sense that we are all in this together, then their suffering is our suffering, their deaths are our deaths, and their souls are inextricably bound up with ours.

Things to brood over this weekend. Sarah Connor’s prompt on Monday will open wider doors for us all.

For now, I leave you with a poem by Joy Harjo, our current US poet laureate. May it, for now, suffice …

SINGING EVERYTHING

Joy Harjo

Once there were songs for everything,
Songs for planting, for growing, for harvesting,
For eating, getting drunk, falling asleep,
For sunrise, birth, mind-break, and war.
For death (those are the heaviest songs and they
Have to be pried from the earth with shovels of grief).
Now all we hear are falling-in-love songs and
Falling apart after falling in love songs.
The earth is leaning sideways
And a song is emerging from the floods
And fires. Urgent tendrils lift toward the sun.
You must be friends with silence to hear.
The songs of the guardians of silence are the most powerful—
They are the most rare.

from An American Sunrise: Poems (2019)

earthweal weekly challenge: A SUFFICIENT POETRY

Summer flowers in the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s Rose End Meadows, Cromford UK, a series of meadows, which are never treated with artificial fertiliser or herbicide. They create a vivid picture of how Derbyshire’s limestone farmland looked about 100 years ago Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

 

In an age of blossoming danger, bewilderment and uneven realities, novel news comes at us fast. 100 degree heat in the Arctic Circle. Astonishing new infection rates here in Florida. A protestor shot at a rally in Kentucky. A dream elevator falls to the bottom of the world.

How does one write encompassing poems of such things?

In a study published in the Archives of Pediatric Nursing, scholars at Purdue University surveyed some 372 registered nurses in Indiana before the pandemic. They were asked about their experiences, nurses revealed a host of traumatic experiences, including being assaulted by patients and watching patients die due to medical errors, and reported symptoms such as exhaustion, guilt, disturbed sleep, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.

A common theme was lack of resources, and this led them to identify a new subset of PTSD which they named “insufficient resource trauma”— psychological trauma that occurs when nurses lack the knowledge, personnel or supplies needed to fulfill their ethical, professional and organizational responsibilities.

Has poetry lacked sufficient resources to accomplish its work?

Now comes the pandemic which health organizations were largely unprepared for. As new cases surge, resource issues for protective gear—masks, gowns and gloves—are still uneven and stretched. As new infections soar in Florida, only one in five nursing homes there have a one week’s supply of gowns and N95 masks, according to the US federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. In Arizona where hospitals are now at full capacity dealing with a surge in dire COVID patients, there aren’t enough routine supplies like disinfecting wipes due to supply chain problems.

Why does poetry have such a difficult time grappling with this silent wave which has subsumed us?

In the United States, leadership continues to offer conflicting and deceptive responses to the crises. Vice President Mike Pence on Face The Nation continued to assert the fiction that the rise in cases is due to increased testing and not the result of early-opening strategies in Sunbelt states. He also falsely asserted that anyone who wanted to be tested could, where in several states citizens were being turned away from testing lines.

Where are poetry’s acknowledged legislators? Why is it so hard to lead from the academy any more? What is tradition if it has no authority?

Due to the overwhelming distraction of the Internet, modernity of this decade lacks common knowledge and assent. In the vicious global crisis presented by the pandemic, this makes sufficient response almost impossible. With hot spots like Brazil and the United States threatening to grow beyond control, nations better equipped and prepared are exceptionally vulnerable to spread. And with such widespread asymptomatic infection, it is only a matter of time before new hot spots take off.

If COVID is only the surface affect of a much more pervasive human virus; is there any mode of communication, poetry or otherwise, can evolve fast enough to grapple with our fundamental wrong-headedness?

Back to nurses: Imagine the disconnect between working shifts without sufficient preparation and contending with so many uphill losing battles (very few patients survive intubation, and those who do face months of ongoing cognitive and physical problems), only then to emerge into an outside world characterized by a vast indifference and almost insatiable desire to resume normal life. The divide between those two worlds must be traumatic in the extreme; now add to that a vicious opportunistic enemy knocking off co-workers and family because there aren’t enough face shields to go around.

I’ve always wondered if the PTSD suffered by so many Iran and Afghanistan veterans was only in part the result of battles over there. Then they came home where their brooding wounds were enflamed by a country gone insane with consumerist distractions.  (Essential book chasing this idea, Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk).

I think a kindred specie of PTSD—where insufficient resource trauma has been trebled by unspeakable global events—now afflicts poets. How do we find adequate words for motions spiraling out of control before our eyes? What’s the proper name for big worlds blowing? How can a poem say? Does our poetry suffer from insufficient historic resources to speak truthfully about it? Is our verbal calibration geared to a time which no longer exists?

Yesterday at the grocery store I asked the cashier if they had started shooting customers who refuse to wear required masks. We laughed, but then the bagger said she saw one very angry and maskless patron throw a lemon at another customer who had admonished them for not wearing one. Across the store.  And down in Palm Beach County of my state (where President Trump has a winter resort named Mar-A-Lago), some residents were so furious about a new mask ordinance that they exploded at the mic with an astonishing array of irrational tirades—that masks are the Devil’s work, that individual freedoms were being destroyed, that George Soros and 5G technology were using masks to destroy their brains.

If I were a nurse and heard such profanity thrown against the simplest and most effective means for slowing the spread of COVID—just after a shift among the dire and dying, with only so much protection against what could kill them and their family members—the trauma seems even worse in contrast. It’s not enough that one has such an uphill battle every day at work, but then to have that effort so flagrantly assaulted by off-shift insanity is enough to … what? Drive one crazy?

We have to mask not only from the virus but mentally against viral thinking. Last night a man fired a dozen shots into a crowd that had gathered in its ongoing protest of the police killing of Breonna Taylor, killing one. Beachgoers flooded Bournemouth Beach in England recently, neglecting all social distancing guidelines and leaving some 12 tons of rubbish on the beach, including a burger box which had been defecated in.

Thanks to the damaged and heating climate we provoked and now condemn ourselves and future generations to, extreme climate events become the norm and pile on each other, dragon over dragon. After wildfires devoured a third of Australia earlier in the year, the summer shift north brought extreme heat to the Arctic and explosive wildfires. Permafrost is melting along with Greenland and Arctic sea ice, and scientists fear that methane released from the melt could create the “dragon event” of runaway climate change, leading to a planet-wide extinction event. I doubt we’re quite there yet, but how would we know? Could a poem tell us? We reckon deep time with hours spent staring at a computer screen; does poetry understand which is the more wicked dragon?

Well—some of our poetry will adapt, if the human species survives, if our capacity to sing finds larynx in the future. In that way, we’re like the rest of the planet living beings, trying to find sufficient nurture. Migratory patterns are shifting, ocean ecosystems are moving. Tawny owls in Finland are becoming deeper in hue (the paler coats are more adapted to snowy winters) and fruit flies in Southern Australia are beginning to take on characteristics of fruit flies found 4 degrees latitude higher.

Perhaps our poetry will become hotbrained, more sensitive to fast changes coming at us. Right now it seems we can either fight back or curl in a ball—it’s brawl or boil.  Maybe urgency will help us overcome latency. And with moments flying so fast at us, work is more temporary and conditional. How dated a poem outraged about climate change now seems. How halcyon our pre-pandemic condition.

For this week’s challenge, write about the challenges you face as a poet trying to write sufficiently to the moment. What is most difficult to capture about the time? What new tools or calibrations might be required? (Are we taking shells to a knife fight?  Trying to play 3D chess with “single vision and Newton’s sleep”?) Consider the relative backwater most poetry is relegated to (why do so many people find poetry difficult if not repugnant?). Feel free to stretch this challenge out in a variety of ways; maybe answers are to be found in language or form or off-beat meters. Perhaps if Dante had not stayed wrapped in Virgil’s meters, he would have found a different transit out of Hell. Remember, maps of the New World were neither faithful or adequate at first, but each draft brought things into clearer focus.

This can also be a personal statement; we all continue to evolve as poets, ever searching for a sufficient enough last draft. What is the thing you wish you could adequately say? And keep in mind the earthweal vibe we embrace here. What is the poetry of Earth with sufficient canopy and roots to see us through such wicked changeful weather?

I wish I knew—that’s why I am asking you!

—Brendan

earthweal open link weekend #26

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend #26.

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.

 

People gather on a beach in Southend-on-Sea, England, on Wednesday, June 24. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began easing coronavirus restrictions in May, but people are still supposed to be distancing themselves from one another. Photo: Getty Images

 

Days here swelter in the Plume, Saharan dust unfurled across the Atlantic Ocean. Humidity normally makes the Florida summer sky pale; clouds become oblique in the shriek of sunlight and humidity. Now this vague dusty obscurantism comes to the upper firmament. In late afternoon it’s like a blue steel lens, refracting and obliquing the build of summer storms so that they look like distant sculpture prohibited us.  Six days we’ve been without rain, which in the teeth of the rainy season translates into an impenetrable wall of heat.

Of course this miasma is token to the effulgence of local COVID-19; the USA’s leaders and citizens have both failed extraordinarily at heeding precautions against this virus. Now it swells and magnifies faster than a speeding concept. The country’s 14-day record of daily new virus counts is up more than 45 percent; in Florida, the count is exponentially even greater. No way to put this on any timely grid; infections reported today are from a picture taken two weeks ago. No way to scale it either, as we are told by our Center for Disease Control that the infection counts should be magnified tenfold to represent the actual rate. Then we are told that our common-sense figurations are useless, as it’s not the number of tests which are swelling the infection count but the rate of infection for those tested. Add summer heat and we’re quite befuddled and besotted lot.

Well, it’s a dismal American story, with Brazil and India also seeing precarious first-wave rises. Not perhaps the tale in your particular corner and if not, good for you. Us dummies will slowly learn, I pray. Meanwhile summer unfolds in the Northern Hemisphere carrying on the work of the austral high tide, with flowers in full bloom and fires raging in the Arctic. Today’s my wife’s birthday and we plan to head out for a day to celebrate, driving over to Cocoa Beach and shopping for birthday stuff. Masked and worn out, by heat and the endless ravages of the Coronavirus. My job search is stymied yet again, and my wife can’t put her father into memory care because two patients at the facility have contracted the virus and are in the hospital. The state will probably be on lockdown in another couple of weeks, so it’s here we go again.

Quite the year, this 2020. And here we are.

— Brendan

earthweal weekly challenge: CULTURE AND NATURE

Wendell Berry

 

Happy summer solstice to you residents of the Northern Hemisphere. Thus commences your astronomical winter. And for you in austral Gaia—happy astronomical summer!

I’ve been slowly reading my way through Wendell Berry’s What I Stand On: Collected Essays 1969-2017, a two-volume set from the Library of America. Berry is the author of some 80 books of poems, essays and novels. A farmer for the past 40 years, he’s a leading voice for sustainable agriculture and  environmental activism. Most of us can repeat his poem “The Peace of Wild Things” by heart, and for me his essays are like cider—crisp, convincing and deeply satisfying..

In his 1985 essay “Preserving Wilderness,” Berry examines the interdependence of culture and nature with this: “The human and the natural are indivisible, and yet are different.”

Therein lies the rub. “We live,” he writes, “partly because we are domestic creatures—that is, we participate in our human economy to the extent that we ‘make a living’: we are able, with variable success, to discipline our appetites and instincts in order to produce this artifact, this human living. And yet it is equally true that we breathe and our hearts beat and we survive as a species because we are wild.”

Ditto human cultivation, which “branches upward out of the soul. The topsoil, to the extent that it is fertile, is wild; it is a dark wilderness, ultimately unknowable, teeming with wildlife. A forest or a crop, no matter how intentionally husbanded by human foresters or farmers, will be found to be healthy precisely to the extent that it is wild—able to collaborate with earth, air, light, and water in the way common to plants before humans walked the earth.”

Attempts to fully domesticate this wildness—to govern and control and maximize yield according to factory procedure—replacing harmony of relation with manufacturing process—are doomed to fail; all we are doing is “increasing the violence and the magnitude of expectable reactions.” “To be divided against nature, against wildness, then, is a human disaster because it is to be divided against ourselves. It confines our identity as creatures entirely within the bounds of our own understanding, which is invariably a mistake because it is invariably reductive. it reduces our largeness, our mystery, to a petty and sickly comprehensibility.”

Likewise, human culture is vital for a fertile relationship with nature; but culture is a product of domestication, and there are good and bad products.

To take a creature who is biologically a human and to make him or her fully human is a task that requires many years some of us sometimes fear that it requires more than a lifetime), and this long effort of human making is necessary, I think, because of our power. In the hierarchy of power among the earth’s creatures, we are at the top, and we have been growing stronger for a long time. We are now, to ourselves, incomprehensibly powerful, capable of doing more damage than floods, storms, volcanoes and earthquakes.

And so it is more important than ever that we should have cultures capable of making us into humans—creatures capable of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, and the other virtues. For our history reveals that, stripped of the restraints, disciplines, and ameliorations of culture, humans are not ‘natural,’ not ‘thinking animals,’ or ‘naked apes,’ but monsters, indiscriminate and insatiable killers and destroyers. We differ from other creatures, partly, in our susceptibility to monstrosity.

Without culture—the humane cultivation of wilderness—the Earth is in trouble. Without nature—without the soil and air of our wild environment—humanity is doomed. There must be common ground for both.

Berry sees that work quite possible. “In the recovery of culture and nature is the knowledge how to form well, how to preserve, harvest and replenish the forests, how make, build, and use, return and restore. In this double recovery is the hope that the domestic and the wild can exist together in lasting harmony.”

Central to this work is harmony, “the inescapable dialogue between culture and nature … (where) humans consciously and conscientiously ask of their work, is this good for us? Is this good for our place? And the questioning and answering  … is minutely particular: It can occur only with reference to particular artifacts, events, places, ecosystems and neighborhoods.”

Somehow I think poetry can enters into the dialogue here, for a poem is both question and answer of the particular, asking, is this good? Good enough? In the proper balance? Worthy of the further work of delving, exhumation, explicating, redress, burial, farewell and replanting?

Craft comes in with the work of cultivation,  for

The good maker understands that a badly made artifact is both an insult to its user and a danger to its source. We could say, then, that good forestry begins with the respectful husbandry of the forest we call stewardship and ends with well-made tables and chairs and houses, just as good agriculture begins with stewardship of the fields and ends with good meals.

Well-wrought urns are sustaining, both with the pleasure of a good thing and reminding us what is  what is worth striving for. A poem from Berry’s in The Country of Marriage (1973) reminds us the poet is cultured is by the poem one has harvested, the delight of nature found there and the essential bond between maker and made:

PRAYER AFTER EATING

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

(from The Country of Marriage, 1973)

May our poems be worthy of the paper sacrificed for them, the carbons released into the atmosphere by what powers our electronic forum.

What is equally important is that our poetry has a receiving source, a venue for expression and a community of readers. In recent decades that source has almost completely shifted to the incessant roar of digital media which places little lasting value on anything. (Almost, I say: This reader still enjoys books of poems in the morning.)

Berry’s analogue is apt:

Conservation is going to prove increasingly futile and meaningless if its prescriptions are not answered positively by an economy that rewards and enforces good use. I would call this a loving economy, for it would strive to place proper value on all the materials of the world, in all their metamorphoses from soil and water, air and light to the finished goods of our towns and households, and I would think that the only effective motive for this would be a particularizing love for local things, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.

What we do here at earthweal—try to, anyway—is celebrate what is local around the world. The complete human artifact is a choir of local voices. As made things go, we are learning about cultivation and harmony, the mix of strident concern and grief and celebration.

I like to think of poems as natural products, seeded by imagination and cultivated with care and craft. Songs of earth praise beauty, rhythm, seasons, death and resurrection: they are the wilderness of poetry, impenetrable and unknowable and of a trust we can only leap to gain, weave metaphors to explain.

But why am I trying to explain this? Here’s Wendell Berry from A Timbered Choir, a collection of poems written on the Sabbath—a day of rest and one in which the poet wanders from field into wood to celebrate the simple glory of what is. In this 1982 poem, Berry writes to his son Den, trying to impart some of what he has learned of culture and nature.

We have walked so many times, my boy,
over these old fields given up
to thicket, have thought
and spoken of their possibilities,
theirs and ours, ours and theirs the same,
so many times, that now when I walk here
alone, the thought of you goes with me;
my mind reaches toward yours
across the distance and through time.

No mortal mind’s complete within itself,
but minds must speak and answer,
as ours must, on the subject of this place,
our history here, summoned
as we are to the correction
of old wrong in this soil, thinned
and broken, and in our minds.

You have seen on these gullied slopes
the piles of stones mossy with age,
dragged out of furrows long ago
by men now names on stones,
who cleared and broke these fields,
saw them go to ruin, learned nothing
from the trees they saw return
to hold the ground again.

But here is a clearing we have made
at no cost to the world
and to our gain — a re-clearing
after forty years: the thicket
cut level with the ground,
grasses and clovers sown
into the last year’s fallen leaves,
new pasture coming to the sun
as the woods plants, lovers of shade,
give way: change made
without violence to the ground.

At evening birdcall
flares at the woods’ edge:
flight arcs into the opening
before nightfall.

Out of disordered history
a little coherence, a pattern
comes, like the steadying
of a rhythm a drum, melody
coming to it from time
to time, waking over it,
as from a bird at dawn
or nightfall, the long outline
emerging, through the momentary,
as the hill’s hard shoulder
shows through trees
when the leaves fall.

The field finds its source
in the old forest, in the thicket
that returned to cover it,
in the dark wilderness of its soil,
in the dispensation of the sky,
in our time, in our minds—
the righting of what was done wrong.

Wrong was easy: gravity helped it.
Right is difficult and long.
In choosing what is difficult
we are free, the mind too
making its little flight
out of the shadow into the clear
in time between work and sleep.

There are two healings: nature’s,
and ours and nature’s. Nature’s
will come in spite of us, after us,
over the graves of its wasters, as it comes
to the forsaken fields. The healing
that is ours and nature’s will come
if we are willing, if we are patient,
if we know the way, if we will do the work.

My father’s father, whose namesake
you are, told my father this, he told me,
and I am telling you: we make
this healing, the land’s and ours:
it is our possibility. We may keep
this place, and be kept by it.

There is a mind of such an artistry
that grass will follow it,
and heal and hold, feed beasts
who will feed us and feed the soil.

Though we invite, this healing comes
in answer to another voice than ours;
a strength not ours returns
out of death beginning in our work.

Though the spring is late and cold,
though uproar of greed
and malice shudders in the sky,
pond, stream, and treetop raise
their ancient songs;

the robin molds her mud nest
with her breast; the air
is bright with breath
and bloom, wise loveliness that asks
nothing of the season but to be.

For this challenge, write about the intersection of culture and nature. How does culture mediate both human and natural? How does it make us more natural and civilized? Where are we too civilized? How are we yet wild? How does nature need wise cultivation? How does cultivation slow the speed of civilization? How should we preserve what little of nature left? How to likewise preserve culture? How do you see yourself as a poet of culture and nature? If your life’s work were assembled in one silo, who would it feed? What is most nourishing? tasty? indigestible? How important is craft with culture? What is a well made thing? What is it to be cultured and wild? (I remember Robert Bly saying you should only put a dream in at the end of a poem since they hail from the darkest wilderness of our understanding.) These suggestions, but of course you can follow your own course into the theme. Local varieties count …

Creatures of culture and nature, let me hear you sing!

— Brendan

earthweal open link weekend #25

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend #25. Share a poem from your repertoire—new or classic—and visit your fellow linkers and comment on their work.

Open link til midnight Sunday, when the next weekly challenge, tentatively titled SUSTAINING NATURE WITH CULTURE, begins.

See you in the fray — Brendan

 

The Sankofa Village for the Arts drum and dance group performing during the Jubilee of Freemen Parade to celebrate Juneteenth at Point State Park last year in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via Associated Press)

 

Now the heavy summer comes to Florida, and right when you would think the atmospheric sizzle would put the fizzle on coronavirus, new cases are leaping everywhere the Florida sun doth shine.

Our state governor protests its because of all the testing now being done, but as usual that’s a curly piece of Republican obfuscation spreading from the country’s vice president on down. In Florida, the rate of infection for testing is heading north of 10 percent now (in nearby Orange County the rate is 15%), which says coronavirus is dangerously swelling.  Welcome to the first spike we just couldn’t say goodbye fast enough to.

Many other places around—maybe yours—the world took better precautions; they shut down early and didn’t demonize wearing masks. In the US, the overall death rate is falling dramatically because hardest-hit areas like New York and New Jersey did their work. People there are just now getting back to daily life.

Where I live, you hardly see anyone wearing masks and daily life has been at full roar for weeks. Still, it’s silent and weird, this raging COVID infection overtaking the Sunshine State. Officials deny and people defy it as if science had no bearing in a tourist mecca, which apparently it doesn’t. Mickey his own corona.

Weirdest is that Florida is a retirement mecca as well, loaded to the gills with 55+ housing communities and people racing about in golf carts and nursing homes without backup generators. If there’s any place where a refusal to heed signs with that old proverbial leading with the chin, Florida deserves the knockout punch.

But that’s just our local story. COVID errancies and lunacies, griefs and heroics weave our world variously but bind us all in ways none of us much understand. Just try compiling a list of COVID dreams and you’ll see. (Last night I packed into an auditorium ahead of a hurricane, sitting first with peers at the company which eliminated my job and then moving to a sparer area where GIs on a World War II transport plane tried to keep their spirits up as they transported to the depths of war. The hurricane getting closer and closer but never quite arriving.)

Today is also Juneteenth, the celebration of the official end of slavery—two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and three months after the end of the Civil War. (Texas was the most distant Confederate state, though it is also said that slaveholders did everything they could to conceal the news of their slaves’ freedom.) In the exceptionally racially charged atmosphere of this summer (again, US news, sorry if it doesn’t resonate in your country), the day feels like tinder. President Trump had originally scheduled a campaign rally in Tulsa today but bowed to public pressure and moved the event to Saturday. As a pair of events, the poles couldn’t be wider.

Splitting seems to be the nature of this summer, a rip-saw of reversal. (Just a few months ago, Florida’s unemployment rate was around 3 percent; in Central Florida today the rate is at 22.4.) Temperatures in the Arctic Circle are hotter now than many places in the tropics, with Siberia seeing zombie fires (fires burning undergrown all winter breaking out afresh) and fire thunderstorms in the wake of a 6 month heat wave.

Carl Jung has a psychologic term for this: enantiodromia or splitting into one’s psychic opposite. Will Black Lives Matter protestors suddenly become racists, venting on whitepeople the historic angst and hate of their fair-skinned other? And those foaming Trump-worshippers in Tulsa, will they be struck black by COVID and find themselves intubated and body-bagged while the world pays attention to other things?

We await further news …

WHILE I THINK OF TAMIR RICE WHILE DRIVING

Reginald Dwayne Betts

in the backseat of my car are my own sons,
still not yet Tamir’s age, already having heard
me warn them against playing with toy pistols,
though my rhetoric is always about what I don’t
like, not what I fear, because sometimes
I think of  Tamir Rice & shed tears, the weeping
all another insignificance, all another way to avoid
saying what should be said: the Second Amendment
is a ruthless one, the pomp & constitutional circumstance
that says my arms should be heavy with the weight
of a pistol when forced to confront death like
this: a child, a hidden toy gun, an officer that fires
before his heart beats twice. My two young sons play
in the backseat while the video of  Tamir dying
plays in my head, & for everything I do know, the thing
I don’t say is that this should not be the brick and mortar
of poetry, the moment when a black father drives
his black sons to school & the thing in the air is the death
of a black boy that the father cannot mention,
because to mention the death is to invite discussion
of  taboo: if you touch my sons the crimson
that touches the concrete must belong, at some point,
to you, the police officer who justifies the echo
of the fired pistol; taboo: the thing that says that justice
is a killer’s body mangled and disrupted by bullets
because his mind would not accept the narrative
of  your child’s dignity, of  his right to life, of  his humanity,
and the crystalline brilliance you saw when your boys first breathed;
the narrative must invite more than the children bleeding
on crisp fall days; & this is why I hate it all, the people around me,
the black people who march, the white people who cheer,
the other brown people, Latinos & Asians & all the colors of   humanity
that we erase in this American dance around death, as we
are not permitted to articulate the reasons we might yearn
to see a man die; there is so much that has to disappear
for my mind not to abandon sanity: Tamir for instance, everything
about him, even as his face, really and truly reminds me
of my own, in the last photo I took before heading off
to a cell, disappears, and all I have stomach for is blood,
and there is a part of me that wishes that it would go away,
the memories, & that I could abandon all talk of making it right
& justice. But my mind is no sieve & sanity is no elixir & I am bound
to be haunted by the strength that lets Tamir’s father,
mother, kinfolk resist the temptation to turn everything
they see into a grave & make home the series of cells
that so many of my brothers already call their tomb.

from Felon: Poems (2019)