earthweal open link weekend #21

Welcome to earthweal’s twenty-first open link weekend. Share a poem of your own preference – new or old, rosy or blue. Open links taken through Sunday; be sure to visit other linkers and comment.

—Brendan

 

 

 

In a recent PBS Frontline report on the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy, we follow a doctor going through her rounds in a hospital overwhelmed with the viral dying and dead.

It is not easy viewing but utterly necessary to understand the long shadow of pandemic. It should be required viewing for those too eager and careless about resuming their pre-COVID existence.

In one scene, the doctor comes home after a futile day of not saving very many and watching many of her co-workers succumb.  After rigorously cleaning up, she asks her teenaged children what they had done for homework and they reply they are writing about the virus.

The exhausted doctor—happy to be home but terrified she will infect her family, does not have an encouraging response. “Let’s say that the only positive thing about this pandemic is that there’s no pollution,” she says. “Only that, the rest is tragedy.”

It occurs to me that the world I live in is so hellbent to get back to its old life because it hasn’t paid adequate witness to that tragedy.  It happens afar—in quarantined rooms and hospitals on restricted access, in nursing homes of other people’s mothers and in distant countries.

The world so in haste to open back up is more captivated by what it gave than any concern about saving lives. Perhaps failing to acknowledge that tragedy makes it blind to its own tragedy, that there’s no going back now. The pre-COVID era is still so close by – only a few months —it’s hard to recognize that it’s already dead.

Another great look into the COVID pandemic was on CBS 60 Minutes last Sunday. Titled “What Will Be The Long Term Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic?”, Jon Wertheim tied it closely to climate crisis. 2020 started out with a wildfire’s continental roar (that surely seemed bad enough moodiness from Mother Nature) and then completely emptied out from a pandemic caused by trespass too deep in the wild.

How big was that second event? Greater than I have been able to properly conceive.

“We might speak achingly of our pre-COVID existences,” Wertheim said. “But life has changed—abruptly, profoundly and irretrievably. We will instead go hurtling into a new era.”

And what will that hurtling new era be for us? The question is resonant at earthweal: Will we listen to the Earth and those who study it closely and change our ways? Or do we continue to our blind mad dash into an even surlier, more destructive future?

The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy was interviewed in the segment following a piece she published in The Financial Times, “The Pandemic Is A Portal.” She said that the pandemic has placed us in a waiting room between the past and future, and we should think a moment about how we should stitch those two back together. This, from her essay:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Strange but perhaps magic opportunity: A fresh start.

Bill McKibben was also interviewed for the segment, and he also said the pandemic presents us with a chance to re-start things on a different foot. If we do, he said, in 60 years the world might thank us rather than curse us. The choice is collectively ours.

We have abruptly departed from one accustomed world and a vastly different one is shifting into view. And I have said before, it is for the namers—us poets, I mean—to discover the inner substance of that.

It’s not an easy task. Granted, naming never is; we write and revise and write again, rubbing away the detritus and leftover and used up and redundant. Getting to the inside of the inside, edging closer to the heart of truth.

There have been some wonderful poems here recently to that effect. Recently you have helped chart a strange new world … upturned the trope of hero’s challenge to suit that voice for women, animals, Earth … and woven vast particulars into the fabric of time. This is how a new earthly weal is bonded, I think. Poem by poem.

We are fortunate to have some new voices—Lindi from South Africa and Suzanne from Australia, Kerfe from New York City and others. So happy you have found us and chosen to add your far-flung voice to the global choir. We are so much richer in sound and texture for it.

There are multiple ways to enjoin this work. Sometimes we grieve, for much of the moment is broken-hearted. However, there is so much too to celebrate; a full and grateful heart radiates hope for all.  And sometimes we must rage, refusing to be ordained by broken orders and systems no longer life-affirming.

To that third end, Sherry Marr takes back over the pulpit for next week’s earthweal challenge. “Protest in a Time of Pandemic” is planned as an open space for an all-comers rally, a chance to speak out against oppressors and users and abusers. (Lord knows, so many of them are coming out of the woodworks these days.) We hope that you will show up and help the earthweal sky become a-flutter with protest banners of every stripe.

The poet’s art is ever one of picking a course through the labyrinth: this way, not that; turn here; dig there. And we are ever reminded that choices are fateful, as Robert Frost told us in poem written as the United States was just entering into the previous century.  What choices he saw then remain for us today, freighted with the consequence of earlier choices.

What then, shall we choose?

—B.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

earthweal open link weekend #19

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend #19.

Link 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 Monday’s weekly challenge.

Everybody gather round!

 

A person, watched by his cat, notes with chalk the days spent in confinement in his home, near Lyon on the 50th day of a strict lockdown in France to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Getty Images)

There’s a lot of exhaustion in the news—the dreary toll of deepening economic malaise around the world, unemployment lines stretching out of sight, meat growing scarce, toilet paper ever-absent from grocery shelves, the drone of unrelentingness hovering in the air. We don’t stay long with the PBS News Hour before switching to more entertaining realities—documentaries, say, nightcapped by reruns of The King of Queens.

But old truths seem shallow; a two-part American Experience doc on George Bush served us the grim drumbeat of all we already knew. Has 21st Century time become so thin that it can offer no vantage on the past?

And that King of Queens: How many times are we gonna watch the same reruns of a show that ended fifteen years ago? We can recite the scripts almost verbatim and laugh like Pavlov doggies along with the studio audience. Why do we find it so hard to wander off into the vast forest of available programming, dissatisfied and untrusting of it all?

Tack it up to the rough grain of pandemic, rubbing 21st Century dailiness raw. There’s no way around it, the wounds are real and ever-worsening and climate change looms just behind it, bringing if not new catastrophe this year then the ever-increasing volume of its approach.

We poets are the namers: It’s left to us to be the imagination’s first responders, discovering the contours and resonance of the crashing world we have awakened in. It’s not a job for poesies or dilettantes; without perceptive hearts our poems are just part of the debris field of the modern swath—blown litter. Maybe there is no way for poetry to assuage this, having been fatally disrupted one or two decades ago.

Yet maybe there’s a heroic element in all of us which has waited this long to awaken, tasking us to dig deeper, try harder; to burnish our sentences and pray to the brass angel that our foundations are correct and crafted stones are correct. Again and again and again, because now it feels like survival. The road of trials is truly long, but there is a treasure still to attain.

What I love about Jack Gilbert was his tenacity in this; settling for was a specie of dying, and he was too much in love with life (or enlivened by love) to reside in suburb of easy poems. It is never enough to merely subsist in poetry; one has to dig deeper, burnish harder, revise again and again. You never know which next word might fulcrum unexpected worlds.

This poem is from Gilbert’s 1995 collection The Great Fires:

TEAR IT DOWN

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

Fierce stuff. I surely and sorely take heart from this insistence, be it in writing poems or loving others or this world. I have to keep reaching for the soul inside the spirit’s gliding line.

OK, ‘nuff said for now. It’s been great to see so many folks coming out for the weekly challenges and open link weekend; hope we keep seeing you around.

Keep the faith—and keep working!

—Brendan

Judy Woodruff of the PBS News Hour broadcasts from home.

earthweal open link weekend #18

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #18.

Share a new poem or something classic from your vault, include your location in your link and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge.

Interesting times!

Brendan

earthweal open link weekend #16

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #16.

Here’s your chance to air your vatic laundry, whether drip-drying new ocean verse or exhuming classic moldie oldies.

Include your location in your link so we can apprize the global choir, and be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge.

Hope you are staying safe and productive on all the distant islands of this pandemic.

– Brendan

 

A cool and rainy day here in Central Florida (this Thursday, at least, when I broke ground on this week’s open link write). Thunderstorms rolled into the afternoon swelter as my wife and I were painting a hallway after a decade of promises to do so. (Projects are such vigorish for staying-in-place blues.)

Cracks of thunder broke into tracks from a 3-CD collection of Philly Soul by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff—“Expressway to Your Heart” by Soul Survivors, “Only The Strong Survive” by Jerry Butler, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Howard Melvin & the Blue Notes. Arch 70s disco soul for hard times; my wife had bought the set 20 years ago after a resoundingly bad yard sale—instead of making some real cash for bills, we barely made enough to eat dinner out on a hot Florida summer night and score the CD set.

Thick smells of paint as we grunted and groaned painting corners, rolling thunder and memories of walking frozen Chicago streets in 1972 with “Me and Mrs. Jones” echoing deeply in my teenaged soul. But it’s great music for painting projects—how long has it been since we’ve given these CDs a spin?—making the afternoon feel like a seedy Chicago movie theater where I used to go watch grindhouse movies with the Puerto Ricans who lived us in my high school years, “Enter the Dragon” and “Superfly,” “Death Wish” and “Unholy Rollers.” Painting all that over, so many decades later, with a wife who never went any of those places but still loves the music so …

It rained through the night last night—something we so need here after months of almost none while pandemic dreams lay siege. Have yours been weird? Last night I wandered lost in some great bowel of a hotel complex, late and later for a job interview, passing bars where patrons motioned me to join them and the full weight of something overhead felt about to collapse.

Somewhere I read that dreams for everyone are weird right now because we’re in the doldrums of a massive change with no real clarity or end in sight. Maybe you have a COVID-19 dream in your holster you’d like to spin out and fire for open link weekend. I usually wake from mine exhausted.

Public comment in Chennai, India.

Climate news is bad, as one would expect in a world of continuing inaction and denial. Scientists now say that Greenland’s ice sheet melted last summer at a record rate largely because of a high-pressure dome which sat over the area, much as it did in 2012 when Greenland experienced its worst melting event. If this weather phenomenon becomes a more normal event, as it is expected in climate models of a warming earth, sea level rise will accelerate at a much faster rate.

Another chirrup of bad news from a worsening world: A study published this month in Nature states that climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. Large swaths of ecosystems would falter in waves, creating sudden die-offs that would be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for the humans who depend on it.  We can look on our presently clearer skies and pray that enough people start working from home instead of commuting to an office for the merciful slowdown in emissions. Our pain is nature’s gain …

Yes, but back to our pain. The bonds of medical safety are stretching the bonds of sanity, especially at the extremes. In Michigan yesterday, thousands gathered at the state capital to protest Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, milling on the steps with rifles and pistols on display as well as Trump 2020 signs and shouting “lock her up!” (“It’s always lock her up,” a ruffled feminist tweeted.) Rural areas of the state have been less affected the virus than In Detroit where 5,000 residents have been stricken by the virus and nearly 400 have died.  (Commenting to reporters later in the day, Gov. Whitmer said, “The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it.”)

Protestors on the steps of the Michigan state capital.

Let’s remember that Republican South Dakota governor Kristi Noem still refuses to issue even a localized stay-in-place order after 600 employees and relatives of the workers at a Smithfield meat-packing plant in Sioux Falls were stricken with the virus, causing the facility to close and resulting in dire warnings about the security of the nation’s meat supply. “I don’t believe (a stay-at-home order is) appropriate considering the data, the facts and the science that we have,” governor Noem said Tuesday, referring, I suppose to the alternative-facts universe by which coronavirus hotspots get pooh-poohed while they mushroom.

In good ole Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has adopted a similar “What Me, Worry?” attitude about the virus in the Sunshine State, waiting too long to order a rather flimsy stay in place order (allowing spring breakers to mosh on beaches, cruise ships to sail out and tourist parks to remain packed), refusing to disclose details about nursing home infections, languishing on unemployment claims (35,000 of 850,000 submitted have cleared) and deeming televised professional wrestling and golf “essential” entertainment options. “You know what Florida really needs now?” asked a recent op-ed by the Miami Herald editorial board. “A governor.” ‘Tis easier to find a Gulf sea-turtle without oil in its belly than get an unemployment application approved in this state …

Not that DeSantis or any other elected official accused of misconduct, abuse of power or simple favoritism toward vested interests over the vital needs of citizens have much cause for worry. The pandemic is obliterating the newspaper industry; 50 percent ad revenue losses have sent the stock of the 280-daily newspaper behemoth Gannett down into whaleshit territory where other newspaper chains like McClatchy have languished for too long. My former employer, which used to do a fairly good job of convincing those newspapers to run cartoons on its pages for exorbitant rates, is looking more doubtful than a penguin diving into the bubbling  Antarctic sea ..

A sobering essay by Ed Yong titled “Our Pandemic Summer” published on April 14 in The Atlantic. It’s the best analysis I’ve seen on what we face next in contesting a virus for which we have no vaccine, is killing about 7 percent of those it infects and is already resurging in Singapore, China, Taiwan and other Asian states trying to re-engage daily life. Yong writes,

The pandemic is not a hurricane or a wildfire. It is not comparable to Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Such disasters are confined in time and space. The SARS-CoV-2 virus will linger through the year and across the world. “Everyone wants to know when this will end,” said Devi Sridhar, a public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh. “That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”

It’s hard to imagine this stuff a month from now, much less a duration which lasts through the summer or much longer after that.  But welcome to the strange new world of weirdness without end. You can thank the obscenity of lust for exotic meat; or silence from officials when truth was needed; or the inaction of other government officials when immediate action was called for. A pair of epidemiologists project that the US death toll would have been ten times lower had social distancing measures been implementing just two weeks earlier. You can’t help but wonder how much humanity would be improved if it had retained more animal instincts.

Now there’s talk of restarting a desperately stalled economy, of going back to work and school albeit with great (OK, some) caution. But you have to add a heaping dollop of uncertainty as to just how to proceed. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before in modern times, so we’re going to have to be flexible,” Jong quotes Caitlin Rivers of the John Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There’s no real playbook.”

More than anything, weirdness is the result, an omnipresent goo-goo eyed whack-a-mole fucking with our dailiness, our relationships, our eating habits, our dreams, our poetry.

Shall I iterate the weird sampling of the moment? There’s a Japanese cult called Happy Science which claims that coronavirus is a disease spread by extraterrestrials and offers “spiritual vaccines” for a fee.  Streets are almost empty in many urban areas, but speeding tickets are being issued at an all-time high. A judge in Florida (of course) has ordered that attorneys who participate for court hearings via Zoom bother to get out of bed and dressed. Authorities in the Maryland village of Taneytown warn residents that they must put on pants before leaving the house to check the mailbox. Routines are disintegrating for those now working from home; meal-times are all over the place, diets are in an uproar, bedtimes are a flaccid joke and streaming has become a less obliterative form of opiate abuse. A bobblehead of Dr. Fauci will soon be available. A man in Cheltenham, England, ran a virtual marathon in his back yard. Authorities now warn runners to give more space to each other as they may create a wake of air behind them that could carry exhaled respiratory droplets for 15 feet or more, meaning that the droplets could reach people walking or jogging well behind them. Tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo have come down with the virus. A Kentucky town has created a neighborhood “safari” for kids during the pandemic, placing stuffed animals in the windows of houses. In Hutchins, Texas, a semi-truck hauling toilet paper to market crashed and caught fire, destroying the precious commodity.

And all the jobs created in the US after the Great Recession have been wiped out with 22 million jobless claims filed in the past 4 weeks. When you look at the graph of job losses in this country during and since the recession, scale is totally lost, with this mild ambling Poconos of a curve irrupted by the starkest upward brutal Himalayas of a four-weeks spike. Weird weird weird.

The new normal is unendingly new: I could sit all day at my Twitter feed, eager for the next instant’s weird development. I try not to—there are halls to paint—but the weight of weirdness bears down on everything, especially dream-time. Last night I wandered about the vast and lavish underground lobby of some grand hotel—there was the sense of enormity hundreds of floors rising above—trying to get to an important event while I passed bars with gleaming taps and bathrooms always too occupied to relieve myself in. And the weird is so invisible, nothing burning or exploding; it’s just the sense that everything is being pushed over by weirdly invisible hands. Like the cold rains today—where did they come from, when it’s been so hot and humid and still for days? There will be a job market out there when I can finally suit up and start showing up again, right? If this is the new normal, it’s a drip I can do without. Can I? Please? Will someone tell weirdness that its season is now over?

Unfortunately, no one has that kind of authority, nobody is really free to decide what they want to and go however they please in weird time. Coronavirus is the truest libertarian, infecting whomever comes unprepared within sneezing distance. The decision to restart a country’s economy cannot be done with any conscience without knowing how many of its population has been infected. Testing is crucial: The official count is the tip of an iceberg, but how much lies below? What is called “herd immunity” means that 60 to 80 percent of a population have endured the infection and survived (and making the wait for a vaccine unnecessary). Liberal estimates put the current infection range at about 20 percent. “However,” Jong writes, “if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean ‘this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,’ said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. ‘Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.’”

With wide-scale testing still a ways off in the U.S. and cabin fever beginning to trump the fear of virus fever, I’m not sure who to feel sorrier for—those going back to jobs in such uncertain peril or unemployed folks who can’t find a way to get back into perilous workplaces. Which straits are more dire?

In the end, humanity is fast catching up with the Earth’s dire straits, with climate change pushing so many species to the brink of extinction. Coronavirus will not spell the end of homo sapiens, but it does lend a certain vantage which the rest of life has been crowded into.

At the end of his essay, Yong likens this to contrast between those who have lived in with disability and the rest of us who are now gaining some appreciation for their plight:

The disability community has also noted that, at a time when their health is in jeopardy and their value is in question, abled people are struggling with a new normal that is their old normal—spatial confinement, unpredictable futures, social distance. “We know how to do community from afar, and how to organize from bed,” said Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech, who studies the intersection between technology and disability. “Instead of feeling this great vacuum, our social life hasn’t radically changed.” Disability scholars have written about “crip time”—a flexible attitude toward timekeeping that comes from uncertainty. “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind,” Shew said. “Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has always been planned differently.”

As the rest of the U.S. comes to terms with the same restless impermanence, it must abandon the question When do we go back to normal? That outlook ignores the immense disparities in what different Americans experience as normal. It wastes the rare opportunity to reimagine what a fairer and less vulnerable society might look like. It glosses over the ongoing nature of the coronavirus threat. There is no going back. The only way out is through—past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond.

Crip time it is then—schools still suspended, employment still distant, enforced isolation without clear end, stock market volcanic, job loss curve at full lust thrust, dream-time anxieties oceanic as the night mashes down. Will there ever be something definitive to be said about all of this?

I keep thinking we’ll find it in our poetry, but maybe the times are just too weird. No poetry survives the era of pyroclastic rain when Mt. Vesuvius erupted next to Pompeii. Maybe everyone was too busy dancing.

Until then, then, this continuance. Keep your poems coming!

 

 

earthweal open link weekend #15

A bird’s silhouette is seen on a streetlight as super moon rises over Ankara, Turkey on April 7, 2020. (Getty Images)

 

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #15.

Here’s your chance to show your poetic colors, whichever one (or more) suits you, be it pretty in present pink or steely in retro blue.

Share something new or a classic from the past. Include your location in your link so we get a feel how wide the global choir is.  And be sure to visit your fellow linkers and comment.

Open link weekend ends at midnight EST Sunday night to make room for Monday’s weekly challenge. Sherry Marr takes the reins again on April 13 with a challenge on relations between humans and animals in a time of pandemic.

– Brendan

 

earthweal open link #14

 

Welcome to earthweal open link weekend #14. Post a poem in whatever theme or mood that suits you. Share something new or a rave fave from the past. 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 Monday’s weekly challenge. March 16 will be the present moment of pandemic and how climate change comes into play. Very interested in finding out through your poetry about the interface of those two global phenomena.

And if any of you are interested in trying your own hand at a weekly challenge, let me know! Would love some fresh DNA in the gene pool.

But for now—sing us a song of whatever and more!

—Brendan

Sweet alyssum.

 

In a recent op-ed piece, Roger Cohen observes what a quiet time we’ve entered:

This is the silent spring. The planet has gone quiet, so quiet you can almost hear it whirling around the sun, feel its smallness, picture for once the loneliness and fleetingness of being alive.

This is the spring of fears. A scratchy throat, a sniffle, and the mind races. I see a single rat ambling around at dusk on Front Street in Brooklyn, a garbage bag ripped open by a dog, and experience an apocalyptic vision of vermin and filth.

Scattered masked pedestrians on empty streets look like the survivors of a neutron bomb. A pathogen about one-thousandth the width of a human hair, the spiky-crowned new coronavirus, has upended civilization and unleashed the imagination…

Massively empty communal spaces pair with a bulge on the other side: What a crowded, crowing interior we’ve opened up, Tik-Tokking a strangely blooming inner primrose path. Zooming our collective unsociable mugs. Gaming and binge-watching and tweeting to fill the empty cathedral within. Reading books, perhaps for the first time …

Time had almost vanished in the digital world, and now it is the grand taskmaster. Who knew? Days are chunks, not flows: managerial tasks, not billows of indulgence. In the past month I’ve:  Cleaned out and organized the garage; my dresser; the bathroom; purged every shelf, drawer and file in my study; made lists of tasks in the yard and house, from weeding to planting to painting and fixing; arranged files in my laptop & tweaked pix I had meant to long ago; wondering, all the while, what to do next.

As my layoff approached—I saw it coming for months—I thought about what a month or two of reprieve from work-time might be like when I could just collect up my past and be. I saw all the above projects in the golden light of time I never had enough of: But now that I’m doubled down in off-time—laid off and ground further down from possibilities of employment by pandemic—mostly time now is a burden, the thing one must carry, and duration is gritty towards iron-heavy. Who knew? I wonder now at the well-paid hours I used to lavish and slave in my former career. Then everything counted, sort of, and was well furnished; now everything counts for everything and contributes hardly at all.

And you know? I seem to have less time than ever. Writing these prompts takes time I must begrudge at the cost of other Important Things, though right now I can hardly imagine what they are.

It’s significant that Cohen identifies this time as a “silent spring,” for it unleashes memories of Rachel Carson’s 1962 jeremiad about the poisoning of America through better chemistry. Despite the authority of her claim that DDT was destroying local ecosystems (and reinforced by the massive character assassination campaign launched against Carson by the chemical industry), nearly 50 years later here we still are, with industries still busily poisoning us as ever, for the good of shareholder profit. As dramatized in the recent movie Dark Waters, Dupont Chemical has always known the C8 compound it used to make Teflon coating decreased fertility, lowered birth rates, cancer, liver dysfunction and thyroid disease) and has vigorously fought—right up to the present—attempts to either regulate the chemical or warn the public.

Writing back in 1962, Carson posed a question we still must ask: “As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life – a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no ‘high-minded orientation,’ no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.”

Which brings us to the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe it’s a stretch comparing DDT to coronavirus, but think about it. The coronavirus pandemic is the result of an emptying of forest species to supply a human need which has no basis for need other than vanity or folk belief—products, both of errant humanity. We hunted pangolins to a hair’s breadth from extinction, and one of them en route to our markets carried some infected batshit it had stepped in. Now the human world has been silenced, if only for a time (do not doubt we’ll come roaring back) to contest the surge of a virus which is harvesting in mass numbers the sick, the old, the weak, both physically and financially—a Darwinism unleashed by our own invasive hands. Sorcerer’s apprentice indeedy.

How will we wash our hands of that? Ask Dupont and the intrepid supply chain of poachers and wild markets; it’s the same capitalism at work.

A third conspirator of course is the ineptitude of world leaders like Donald Trump, failing so miserably to prepare and respond to the crisis, especially here in the United States where industry groups have such influence in national policy. (Remember, it was pressure from the national Chamber the Commerce and pro-business advocates like Steven Moore and Art Laffer that had Donald Trump making absurd rumblings about re-opening America  for business by Easter—remember “the cure should not be more harmful than the disease”?) A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine called the poor-to-criminally negligent response of the US government to the pandemic “the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history,” “more glaring than Pearl Harbor or 9/11.”) Donald Trump now echoes Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that government inaction is the Democrats’ fault—the White House was distracted by impeachment proceedings earlier in the year when it should have been preparing for the coming pandemic.

Yet the real wonder in the vista of nastiness—the fourth horseman of our apocalypse—is that we US citizens allowed a disease like Trump into office, which says volumes about our indifference and distraction, two qualities pandemic revels in. And despite the cascading awfulness of this guy, he still has a good chance of getting re-elected back into the White House come November. Huh?

Likewise, the inept government response worldwide to this pandemic is no different than the human community’s failure to respond to the climate crisis: Present gain trumps future risk every time. The cruel irony is that the truth is just the opposite: present inaction yields even greater future risk.

As we endure this spring silenced by our own ill-preparation in dealing with the consequences of our behavior, all of the errancies of human civilization find themselves burnished. Authoritarians use government control measures to consolidate power. Domestic violence is soaring. Scammers are taking advantage of fear. Hackers are breaking into Zoom meetings to harass women and sling racial slurs. Here in Florida, gun shops are declared essential services.

Are we lost? Never in one sense. Humanity ever adapts and innovates and responds. We race toward stronger tools, we embrace new methods of coping. We look for silver linings. Cohen himself searches for these:

… Yet, to write, to read, to cook, to reflect in silence, to walk the dog (until it braces its legs against moving because it’s walked too much), to adapt to a single space, to forsake the frenetic, to contemplate a stilled world, may be to open a space for individual growth. Something has shifted. The earth has struck back. Exacting breathlessness, it has asserted its demand to breathe.

Is this silent spring a curse, a gift, or both? That is up to us and our time to decide. The new normal is only the present one, and this pandemic has many chapters to come.

A poem in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine struck a somewhat reassuring, somewhat dissonant chord, which may be the most we can hope for:

HOW TO SURVIVE THIS

Barbara Kingsolver

O misery. Imperfect
universe of days stretched out
ahead, the string of pearls
and drops of venom on the web,
losses of heart, of life
and limb, news of the worst:

Remind me again
the day will come
when I look back amazed
at the waste of sorry salt
when I had no more than this
to cry about.

Now I lay me down.
I’m not there yet.

 

Postscript:

My sweet 89-year-old uncle died yesterday. Posing as one of his children, I was able to get past the front desk of the assisted living facility where he and my aunt are now living (places like that are in lockdown) and spent some time by his side. He’d suffered a major stroke and could not speak, but he did squeeze my hand as I remembered out loud all the fun we had as kids when my mom came to visit her sister. How he drove the ski boat around the lake by their house in Orlando all those decades he was on call as a neurosurgeon. How he complained that when I played their Steinway, I never could finish any ditty I started. (Pianos were not made for first drafts.) How he and I would make up couplets about food over dinners my aunt prepared. How he helped pay for my sister’s college and loaned me the money for my DUI fine. I thanked him for always taking care of my Mom and making their house a welcoming place for our family as we all grew up and had kids and worked careers.

I told him I loved him: He squeezed my hand. I talked with my aunt for a while after and then departed, saving my mask in a baggie and driving quiet streets in Orlando while spring spread in silent glory. Later that afternoon as I was planting sweet alyssum in the window boxes,  my cell phone dinged – a text message from my cousin Kitty to say her father had died. I’d seen him in his final hours.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s unemployment website is down again. Yesterday I got the last of four things on shelves at my grocery store. It’s stunningly beautiful outside. Hardly any traffic goes up and down our street today. The Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa” lingers in my ears as life drones on.  What a world we live in.