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.

earthweal open link #13

Welcome to earthweal’s lucky no. 13 open link weekend. Specially loaded dice gleam on the felt: It’s your turn to take them up and shake, rattle ‘n’ roil.

Link a poem which feels fit for your mood’s moment, the time (strange and wild for sure) or both, be it new or up from your archival vaults.  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. On March 30, Sherry Blue Sky takes over the reins again with a challenge she titled FLATTENING THE CURVE. Lord knows, we all have something to sing in the perilous chapel perched atop that uproarious hill!

Looking forward to walking in the wild of your songs.

 

 

This past several weeks my wife and I have hunkered down in the lowlands, doing our part to soothe and smooth the bat-virus beast unleashed by a delectable pangolin cowering in a wild meat market. Legacies grow stranger these days, do they not? Stronger too. (And we thought Australian wildfires could have no peer!)

Well, here we are again, torching the drama of a local disaster on the most global of scales, with all of the buffoonery and terror of Feast Night in Hell Kitchen: Surges of infection overwhelming hospitals, makeshift morgues hijacking ice rinks and refrigerated semis, politicians swirling in the surge of events like hapless dwarves (pointing bony fingers at each other with partisan glee), grocery aisles bare as Primavera’s tushie, less and less compassion in the eyes of our daily fellows as this painful  exercise demands ever more sacrifice and worry and fear. (Here in Florida, the drumbeat is Stay Inside If You’re Compromised, We’re Going To The Mall.) No one dares look too far down the lanes of consequence because the view is too scary—global recession? what of the poor? the homeless? homeland-less migrants? climate refugees? When will I find another roll of toilet paper?

And if that’s not enough, it’s HOT here in Central Florida today – 93 degrees—which coming in late March portends ever-hotter oceans and the resulting mega hurricanes. (Whoopie.)  Researchers are bringing back bad news from the Great Barrier Reef—a third major bleaching event in the past five years. Acre upon water acre of ghostly spines and desecrate ecosystems. And the largest king penguin colony in the world in the sub-Antarctic Crozet archipelago known as Pigs Island, is 1 million king penguins shy of the last count, the result, researchers believe, of a hotter ocean.

The age we call Anthropocene is grim indeed,  and the fun is just beginning. Can’t we just order up a different century from the menu of the ages? I’ll take the sixth century AD, please. The year 563—when my spiritual father St. Oran was buried in the footers of the new abbey on the isle of Iona— works fine for me.

In lieu of that, we’ll just have to keep our spectacles polished and keep writing down what we see. In some ways (though none of them so rosily affective), it’s like entering puberty or falling in love for the first time: Everything is fresh and new. Maybe dying is that way, too. Good thing we see the reality only so far down the line.

Now let the linking begin!

—Brendan

earthweal open link #12

Welcome to earthweal’s open Link Weekend #12.

Link a poem that best suits your own theme or mood, be it new or oldie gold. 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, which I haven’t figured out what it will be. (We may stay with pandemic a while, as it is doing the same for us.)

Join the campfire with a song!

—Brendan

Emily Dickinson’s writing desk

For the past 30 years my daily life has kicked off with an early morning vigil with the muses mid their tombs. Knocking down a cup to bold java while pooled in lamplight, I’ve read a bit of poetry and a bit of prose before writing.  I’ve delved into the vast res of human yearning, exaltation and explication, half of me excavating, the other half singing back.

Lord knows how the habit came to me; my father’s intellectual interests were closely akin to mine, but it was my mother who was the early riser, reading her Bible and writing her prayers. I suppose I ride the early dolphin due to both of them

For decades I’ve written notes in journals and cobbled poems, first in comp books, then straight into a computer. (The median step of first writing with a pen seemed unnecessary by 2008, when I inherited my dead brother’s laptop.) My shelves have filled with must-keep books on mythology, psychology, folklore, ancient history, criticism, novels and, of course, poetry. I dunno, I walk in my study and sense a vibrant chorus of dead voices, delving, praising, roaring, hushed. Maybe it’s just all those moments I read something and said Yes! and wrote something down, to keep it closer in mind or sing it somehow back.

Around  the year 2000 my wife needed space for her growing sewing business, and that study morphed into a co-working space. The main desktop space (two work surfaces on three file cabinets) are taken up with her embroidery machine and serger and packed all around are bags of fabrics and pillows. I yielded my workspace to her, moving into the living room for my daily work, loading a cabinet out here with stuff for present work and used the study for overspill, packing extra books into the closet or upstairs in the attic.

In my hurried former professional life, stuff has been tucked away for eventual filing for decades.  Needless to say, it’s a cramped space: But finally unemployment has given me a chance to do some reclamation in there, throwing out old drafts of poems (printed out our in the comp book they were first written down), photocopied research dating back to the 90s, extra copies of stuff I’ve created at my various jobs. Four boxes with books I just know I’ll never touch again headed for the public library used book nook, and  ten hulking black garbage bags went to the curb. After decades, I’ve got my share of that room organized and in place. You could almost feel the breath of breadth return to the room.

But part of me has been silently lamenting the massive jettison. I’m not sure I would ever return to any of it, but still some essential part of the conversation feels diminished, maybe even lost. Songlines are built over millennia, and reconnoitering them took a lifetime I’ll not have the chance to repeat. It felt like letting a dreamed-of life go. There were folders of research for degrees I’ll never work for again, stuff for classes I’ll never teach, criticism I’ll never write, mythological studies I never found any local presence for.

Maybe there’s an acceptance in that letting go. Certainly I’ve made my wife’s job easier should she have to tackle all that in my absence. The stuff which remains feels more essentially myself.

The thicket is trimmed, the great tree thinned: Such measures do prepare one for coming seasons, and Lord knows what this next one will bring. Having banished some ghostly possibilities of my accumulated self,  I do feel more on my feet for the stiff breeze of changes now coming at us from every direction – no job, no prospects, virus closing in, an entire human globe going on lockdown.

Still, there is work to do—more daily forays into the Deep, more exchanges here at earthweal, new vistas of marriage (Lord help us). We’re getting to know our neighbors a different way. I’m discovering AA can survive on Zoom meetings. Daily life in the uncertain has its edges of fear, but it also yields new possibilities. I got that study finally organized.

I was reading from a 2004 study journal this morning – pulled from a shelf now lined with them—and read an Emily Dickenson poem I had copied out in full. As back then, I heard an old voice affirm something in my own, and reminded me of the great chorus of which all poets are a part:

The feet of people walking home
In gayer sandals go,
The Crocus, till she rises,
The Vassal of the Snow—
The lips of Halleluja!
Long years of practice bore,
Till bye and bye these Bargemen
Walked singing on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings
Extorted from the Sea,
Pinions of the Seraph’s wagon,
Pedestrians once, as we—
Night is the morning’s canvas,
Larceny, legacy,
Death but our rapt attention
To immortality.

My figures fail to tell me
How far the village lies,
Whose Peasants are the angels
Whose Cantons dot the skies.
My Classics veil their faces
My Faith that dark adores
Which from its solemn Abbey
Such resurrection pours!

 (LXXXIV)

I thought I had copied the poem out of a volume of Dickinson’s poems from my library which was one of the older volumes in my collection, one I had bought back in college in the ‘70s. But the numbering was different, and I actually found it in a 1942 Little, Brown & Co. volume edited by Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Alfred Leete Hampson—one which my mother had when she was attending Duke University and gave to me when she found out I was writing poetry with daily passion. Now that she’s gone, if feels like her voice is an added resonance on that other side where Dickinson’s poems all went, a place all of us pedestrian poets will eventually go to sing in the vast Choir.

So there you go—much to remember and celebrate as the invisible comes to roost with us all. Maybe it’s a footing of sorts—an Abbey, from which such resurrection pours!

Works for me.

earthweal open link weekend #11

Welcome to Open Link Weekend #11 at earthweal.

Post a poem in whatever theme or mood that suits you. Share something new from your creel of winds, or a greatest hit from your true and blue lists.

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 (duh) PANDEMIC. I’m very interested to read how minds from around the world and grappling for words for this vapor of a changing Earth.

But for now—pull up a stool and sing us a song of whatever!

—Brendan

 

 

If there’s anything we need right now in this weird, shouting, overbright, panicky moment of a rapidly unfolding pandemic, it’s medicine songs—voices of assurance from far and wide, deep and old.

In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram points out that the role of the traditional healer—the so-called medicine man—was not primarily to heal humans, but rather to keep balance with the wild which surrounds and sustains every village:

The traditional or tribal shaman … acts as an intermediary between the human community and the larger ecological field, ensuring that there is an appropriate flow of nourishment, not just from the landscape of the human inhabitants, but from the human community back to the local earth. By his constant rituals, trances, ecstasies and “journeys,” he ensures that the relation between human society and the larger society of beings is balanced and reciprocal, and that the village never takes more from the living land than it returns to it … The sorcerer derives her ability to cure ailments from her more continuous practice of “healing” or balancing the community’s relation to the surrounding land. (7)

If we would address our virus-stricken new reality—a global change dissembling and crumbling normal routines right before our eyes—we must first try to redress our own disruption of the natural order. (Coronovirus ain’t nothin’, compared to the human stain!) We should inhabit tenors and tones which  correct the imbalances wrought of climate change. Let us pray for the healing of pangolin spirits, poached almost to extinction for game markets and bad medicine. May we rebuild a bridge to green recognitions and assurances. Giving voice to the Earth, we balm our afflictions.

Who knows—maybe our quarantines will help turn our gaze to the lushness of our back yards and the wilderness beyond.

I mean, what else are we gonna do?

 

OUTSIDE

William Stafford

The least little sound sets the coyotes walking,
walking the edge of our comfortable earth.
We look inward, but all of them
are looking toward us as they walk the earth.

We need to let animals loose in our houses,
the wolf to escape with a pan in his teeth,
and streams of animals toward the horizon
racing with something silent in each mouth.

For all we have taken into our keeping
and polished with our hands belongs to a truth
greater than ours, in the animals’ keeping.
Coyotes are circling around our truth.

earthweal open link weekend #10

Welcome to Earthweal’s tenth open link weekend.  Here’s your chance to express yourself as widely and deeply as you wish, in whatever theme or mood that suits you.

Only two requests: 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. The next one is tentatively titled A GROWING THUNDER (something about increased storm activity across the Earth and/or in the mind).

Enjoy the free-for-all!

 

A quiet mood has been on me for the past week, so I don’t have much to offer by way of homily today. (Cue cheers from the peanut gallery.)

Becalmed is one way to put it; no wind in the sails, ergo no forward movement. Fits and starts with new poems which splutter out.  Dead zone is another, a region of sea depleted of oxygen mostly due to human activity, mostly nutrient pollution.  Without enough 02, sea life dies or flees. One such dead zone lies off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi (USA) where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and it covers about 6-7,000 square miles. Excessive rainfall this year and last—due in part to a heating Earth and increased moisture in the air—is increasing the agricultural effluent flowing down the river into the Gulf, creating hypoxic conditions which threatens fishing and tourism in the area.

Anyway, that’s my state of mind this week—at odds with Earth and Sea in a way which turns  pages stale and dry.

It’s been an eventfully unstable week in the world, and that can surely upset vatic apple carts. Coronavirus has spread to my Florida—not vastly, not yet anyway—so there’s that in the news cycle, as well as filtering into grocery stores where people are already stocking up for quarantine. (My local grocery store doubled their normal business for the day when the first cases were announced in Tampa, about 50 miles away.) Global markets have been on a financial Tilt-a-Whirl, stoking fears of recession or worse and U.S. politics are churning with a high-anxiety 2020 presidential campaign.

And then there are the personal uncertainties and anxiety of unemployment in one’s 60s, a wife in much distress over care for a father with advanced dementia and someone banging around in the bathroom all day replacing a shower that had been installed ten years ago by a criminally lazy contractor.  Hard to peruse the deep well when your domestic ass is on fire, is it not?

Occasional bouts of becalmed-to-dead inner oceanics have grown routine as I age; I stare at a blank page and wonder if there’s a single inspired word left in me. So far it doesn’t last for long. Eventually the wind shifts and the sails fill again, the pollution clears in the water and big fish swim back. Who knows why the spirit leaves us, where the leak might be, though I’m sure I have legion and the muses have a large congregation to inspire. I’ve found that if I not get too troubled about it and focus on peripheral projects on the creative farm—filing away old poems, cleaning out the detritus of the learning life, or writing this post—the secret rudder eventually finds its webbed footing again and I’m baaaaaaack.

Like a lot of things it magnifies, climate change may be increasing these doldrums with new vistas of bewitched, hypoxic emptiness. The whole world is going silent in its acquiescence to digital disruption, its numbing 180 away from the world. Maybe Ross Douthat is right that we’re in a latter-time decadence where the world isn’t so much zooming up into singularity as scattering in dust:

The truth of the first decades of the 21st century, a truth that helped give us the Trump presidency but will still be an important truth when he is gone, is that we probably aren’t entering a 1930-style crisis for Western liberalism or hurtling forward toward transhumanism or extinction. Instead, we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.

The rising crescendo of earth events precipitated by climate change only makes the cultural dead zone of decadence even more lifeless, for both come when we are seemingly least capable of lifting a finger to do anything about it.

It’s all rather depressing, and that, I think, has kept or driven people away from here. (One departing poet sniffed, “This place makes Goths look like Up With People.”) Jamming a finger down on our inability to respond, much less change, despite the overwhelming evidence that we must do something immediately to combat the lasting effects of climate change—well, that just makes it all the more depressing. And depressing poems about earth change don’t seem like very apt buckets when one should instead be baling a capsizing boat.

But maybe that’s the point. Depression—dem ole melancholy blues—is a common haunt for most poets I know. It is the creative illness, perfection’s crucifix and nail. And with suicide rates for the whole population climbing globally, depression is also a thoroughly modern malaise.

Timothy Morton in his book Dark Ecology also places depression at the forefront of modernity, but adds that the modern is simply the 10,000-year shadow of the “Mesopotamian agrilogistic fantasy” that nature can be ordered to serve human civilization d. Modernity is a deathless freeze which awaits tools strong enough to defeat death.

Depression is an autoimmune disorder of the intellect against its poor phenomenological host being, little you. The “tears of a clown” form of comedic depression is when the depression says, I am not (just) a finite being, a sentence that sounds suspiciously like the agrilogistic virus. The desire arises to be regarded as a “serious” actor whose irreducible gap is sealed. Like white blood cells, the intellect can’t bear mortality and finitude. It wants you to live forever. It will eliminate every contradiction in its path to carry out this (absurd, impossible, destructive) mission. The “logical” conclusion to this path is the suicidal elimination of the host, like going into anaphylactic shock.

He adds,

The agricultural logistics that now dominates Earth is this depression mind manifesting in global space. Objectively eliminating the finitude and anomalies that actually allow it to happen, the poor voles and weeds. The level of ecological awareness after guilt and shame has to do with depression, of being de-pressed by the overwhelming presence of processes and entities that one can’t shake off. The idea that one could shake them off is the basis of the depression. The depression is in effect a symptom of agrilogistics, itself a depressive drive to eliminate contradiction, with its consequent absurd and violent demarcation of Nature and (human) culture. Depression in a box, Mesopotamian depression, obsessively reproduced, now global. The whole point is to fight one’s way back from the brink (species-cidal and suicidal) toward the comedy. Toward accepting the irreducible rift between what a thing is and how it appears, allowing it to manifest. (Kindle edition, 153-5)

Long story short: lighten up! It’s only depressing when assume the world’s “complicate amassing harmony” (Wallace Stevens) is somehow perfectible. We do what we can and leave the rest to our Olympian complexes to duke it out. (My vote is for Hermes, dark lord of long roads, the guy who can find the silver hidden in depression’s fog. )

Those who do continue to participate at earthweal (or who are now coming round) stress that changing earth also inspires hope and renewal. There is a drum yet to bang (thank you, Sherry). There is a difference between that false hope which is the fantasy of Oz— over the rainbow free of Depression— and the radical hope of whatever Kanas is and can be beyond the dust storm, through Australia’s corridor of wildfire smoke, in a Cape Town gone dry and an Iran flooding over with coronavirus. There is love in the time of cholera, and there is a poetry of that—sometimes hypoxic and then flourishing.

Morton, again: “Instead of the fatal game of mastering oneself, ecognosis means realizing the irony of being caught in a loop and how that irony does not bestow escape velocity from the loop. Irony and sincerity intertwine. This irony is joy, and the joy is erotic” (155).

Thus—we play!

—Brendan

SPRING

Mary Oliver

This morning
two birds
fell down the side of the maple tree

like a tuft of fire
a wheel of fire
a love knot

out of control as they plunged through the air
pressed against each other
and I thought

how I meant to live a quiet life
how I meant to live a life of mildness and meditation
tapping the careful words against each other

and I thought—
as though I were suddenly spinning, like a bar of silver
as though I had shaken my arms and lo! they were wings—

of the Buddha
when he rose from his green garden
when he rose in his powerful ivory body

when he turned to the long dusty road without end
when he covered his hair with ribbons and the petals of flowers
when he opened his hands to the world

From West Wind (1997)

 

earthweal open link weekend #9

Welcome to earthweal’s open link weekend Number Nine! (Is that John Lennon echoing in the background?) Link a poem from your ouvre using the Mr. Linky Widget (include your location).

Visit your fellow linkers’ contributions and be sure to comment; the thread of late has been looking a little thin.

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

Sherry Marr returns on March 2 with a weekly challenge titled BEATING THE DRUMS OF CHANGE.

Get in everybody! The water’s great!

A mural of Greta Thunberg on the side of a building in Bristol, England, on February 27, 2020

 

 

What great responses to the “Clockwork Green” challenge this week! We are creatures of time, though our poetries wind and spring those tempos so variously. Nice job, guys.

Also good to hear that the earthweal wheels keep spinning. In her comment to the post, Sarah wrote, “earthweal is invading my dreams and my writing at the moment.” Not sure that is a compliment, but even as complaint it’s a vote for the work.

Climate change has thoroughly invaded my dreams and writing, too. The other night I dreamed I was trying to figure out how to write a poem about the earth’s looming hothouse—all that carbon and methane we can’t stop emitting from our overpopulated, industrialized and digitally-enrapt existence. What if runaway climate change ensues and we end up like Venus, with all that carbon trapped in the atmosphere and causing the surface to heat to 800 degrees? What would it look and feel like to the soul? Like sexual passion in the middle of a hot humid Florida summer? How do the panes shift and the vortexes whirl and the irruptive facts make themselves brutally clear? To the mind, in the heart?

Short of actually writing a poem about it (maybe I still will), the dream put the problem most clearly to me that we are forced to face off not with a temporal human event (whose clockworks have upsprung into their own chaos, as this week’s contributions have so well demonstrated) but a monstrous geological change dripping with so many unknowns that facing it squarely is more perilous than fleeing off to some earthphobic Lalaland.

As usual, there’s plenty of present evidence. After a vicious round of drought, wildfire and storm—all incensed by climate change, Australia is now experiencing “compound extremes”: one climate disaster setting up conditions to make the next one worse. Sustained high heat creates droughts creating tinder conditions leading to massive wildfires which lead to intense rains the ground is too dry to absorb which leads to flooding which kills fish from ash runoff which further damages ecosystems … et cetera. (Cue Jacob Marley here, rattling his chains at Scrooge and hollering, “you think this mug is bad, wait til you see the guy two ghosts down from me!” —roll on the snare, tap o’ the high hat)  Last year the news was that climate change could whip up multiple simultaneous disasters, now we find out there’s more to every one of them. Yippee.

But the slowly growing growling Event of the Year So Far of course is coronavirus, now leaking like contagion into the greener (as in, toxic-spill green) areas of the imagination. Global stock markets are acting like the news of interrupted business just suckerpunched them, and the Trump administration is falling over themselves like Keystone Cops trying to assure Americans there’s nothing to worry about (while whispering Oh Yes There Is into every dark nook of the conspiratorial fanny). Yes, well. All this goes back to the intrusion of the human into the wild, for the sake of relieving some poor pangolin of its scales in order to ease aching joints. (if not consciences). That and the virus of the homo sapiens tourist.

Climate change-related news continues to interrupt the news cycle (January was also the hottest year on record, spring floods are going from nasty to worse). It makes everything else going on, from Democratic primaries to seem like and the continuing saga of Harry and Megan seem like comic asides.  One really is, but that both like everything else in the normal frame of reference feel weirdly apart from the real news suggests that climate change has surfaced at the center of our cultural awareness.

In his book Defiant Earth, Clive Hamilton gets to the heart of this sense of irruption:

In German, Erlebnis can simply mean an event or occurrence in the course of life, the type of personal experience that was the hallmark of nineteenth-century Romanticism’s appeal to feeling. But it can also refer to an intense disruptive episode, one that makes an indelible impression, changing a life course, the kind of experience not so much integrated into a life but which relegates the old life to the past and inaugurates a new sensibility, “something unforgettable and irreplaceable, something whose meaning cannot be exhausted by conceptual determination.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 61). Such a realization is not only a powerful emotional event but also one saturated with meaning. The subject often has the inexplicable feeling that the event has some purpose that asks to be understood. It is as if some force has intervened, creating a rupture that has meaning beyond the personal, a universal truth.

What am I gonna do? Keep looking for work, get some projects done around the house, try to be a calm influence in a growing storm and start reading Love In A Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And keep writing. Marquez once told a friend, “’In reality the duty of a writer—the revolutionary duty, if you like—is that of writing well.” I’m not sure it is possible to love or write well in the full bloom of a coronavirus pandemic, but it’s on my to-do list for the new future. How bout you?

Jacob Marley has indeed come calling, and more ghosts are to follow. (Sherry faces off with the ghoul of the Capitolocene in her upcoming challenge.)  Rethinking human and nature is radical work, and much must be uprooted. Time is not on our side. When you consider that the sudden uptick in climate disasters is the product of carbon emissions from 20 years ago—this is what we get with 1 degree Celsius warming since the beginnings of the Industrial Age—just imagine what’s in store for us at 3 degrees C warming, now the low end of projections for the rest of this century.

In her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein wrote that such alarming news about our imminent future is

… the equivalent of every alarm in your house going off simultaneously. And then every alarm on your street going off as well, one by one by one. They mean, quite simply, that climate change has become an existential crisis for the human species. The only historical precedent for a crisis of this depth and scale was the Cold War fear that we were heading toward nuclear holocaust, which would have made much of the planet uninhabitable. But that was (and remains) a threat; a slim possibility, should geopolitics spiral out of control.

You think nuclear annihilation is bad, wait to you see what else we’ve cooked up! (bada-bing.) That at was six years ago, and back then Klein said we had about a decade to act decisively enough. As wake-up calls go—like all the rest of we keep getting in the news—this one didn’t seem to change voracious global consumption habits one bit. Too many people wanting A/C and iPhones and big farty cars.

How is it that we—me, I mean—remain so fixed in my fossil fueled comfort zone? Am I deranged, asleep at the wheel, or that drunk on memememememememe?

Well, yes. It is exceedingly difficult to see that my cultured upbrining is horribly out of sync with the world as it is now revealing itself. That my what-me-worry? dailiness compounded by 8 billion other Alfred E. Neumanns is pissing of the Earth and how.

I was raised a suburban kid in the 60s, awash in Mayberry RFD and The Beatles, privileged by white male birthright and given all the permission in the world to seek my own pleasure and indulgence. From the time my lips were torn from my mother’s breast, the American Dream was the opioidal alternative I was told give suck to. 60 years later I found out that it was a manufacturer’s dream, a Capitalist roadhouse in which fossil fuel was the hootch and a sprawling suburbia of techno-comforts the prize lady slithering round the stripper pole.

And while I whiled away my privilege squandering everything in sight, beyond self-same walls I refused to look past was a world getting sick very, very fast.

Behind that silicone mask, what an ugly, ugly reality. And how difficult breaking free—like losing one’s life, place, hopes and delusions.

I look that square in the face—and task my work with it—or remain deluded with the sinking part of my humanity.

Amitav Ghosh again, in his book-length essay The Great Derangement:

… We have entered a time when the wild has become the norm: if certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these torrents, then they will have failed—and their failures will have to be counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure.

Business as usual says bury one’s head and have a drinkadoodledoo. If there’s any waking, someone’s got to start by lifting their head, looking about and connoitering not only the changed landscape but find a healing response to it. And short of that, at least describe the shiftiness of a today that ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Ergo earthweal.

Some of the work feels precipitous, between falling into the same old wah wah despair or embracing lah-lah velds of Disneyesque fancy. Honey, this ain’t no rock ‘n’ roll show: This is adult work. Despair we can fill by the bucket, but hope comes in drips and drabs. What seems evident in the work we’ve done here so far is that every challenge of changing earth demands a capacity for both, and that’s something we need each other for. Our combined imagination is the good work we can achieve, a collective of global voices tuning in to the same growing bandwidth.

‘Nuff said. If you thought climate change was bad, wait till you see what your upcoming season has in store for us!

—Brendan

 

earthweal open link weekend #8

Welcome to earthweal’s eighth open link weekend! Link a poem of your fancy 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.

The Feb. 24 challenge will be A CLOCKWORK GREEN. Lots of weird spinning these days in the Earth’s watchworks!

Take a breath and join the fray!

— Brendan

 

The oaks in my Florida town are now a-flush with vernal green.

 

This forum is dedicated to the work of finding adequate words to describe our changing Earth.

A geological epoch—the Holocene, civilization’s womb—is ending. Climate is changing rapidly, creating atmospheric conditions which haven’t been seen for 3 million years. It’s getting hotter, storms are growing wilder, oceans are rising.  This is rocking the lifeboat, causing a mass extinction of organic life.

One species is responsible, and its existence is equally imperiled, even though most of its present representatives don’t seem to know or care.

The tools we have developed to master our environment, developed over 300,000 years of homo sapiens development, are big enough now to alter geologic time. They have consequences too powerful for our simian brains to comprehend anywhere fast enough. Like some 21st Century sorcerer’s apprentice, humanity is chasing its iPhone through a frenzied clockwork of spinning hands and smoking gears.

 I don’t know about you, but all this comes rather late in my story and it’s a lot to be hit with all at once.

Our self-obsessed human civilization, so unique and independent and separate from everything else (even other members its own tribe), itself is not doing much of a job absorbing the news. The two vast poles of response so far have been denial and despair, and neither does anything to address the problem.

In the week’s news, there’s little to suggest any perceptible change to the better, in the science or politics or culture. The global average temperature for January 2020 was the hottest for that month ever, suggesting that we’re in for another hot one this year. The northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula recorded its hottest temperature ever at 64.9 degrees F, part of a warming pattern in the area that caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers. Torrential rainfall is causing widespread flooding along the southern reaches of the Mississippi River, raising the specter of last spring’s devastating floods in the Midwest. Over in Africa, locusts are swarming in Kenya at unprecedented levels, magnified by heavy local rains (ramped by a hotter Indian Ocean) and rising air temperatures. As farmland is denuded by the insects, food security continues to become more threatened.

Meanwhile climate change denialism continues to grow its weird underground dodo with Republicans in Congress proposing funding for technology which would reduce emissions while avoiding any decrease in fossil fuel consumption. This, at the same time  a recent Nature study reveals that oil and gas production is releasing far greater amounts of methane than previously thought. And of course the Trump administration is moving forward with a plan that would eliminate the requirement that oil companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from their facilities, a rollback which by the EPA’s own estimates would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025.

And with the coronavirus continuing to spread, further feeding fears of a global pandemic, the cause is narrowing to pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal which is being trafficked into extinction, imported to Chinese markets for medicine and food. Actually, bats are probably the source, and pangolins are acting as intermediate hosts while being ruthlessly harvested for human consumption. Last year in Hong Kong, authorities discovered a shipment of 14 tons of pangolin scales; about 36,000 pangolins would have to been killed to cull that amount. As usual, in the end there is just an oblivious and greedy human hand, tipping the world’s balance.

Et cetera. How long can one go on in any single week?

A pangolin rescued from poachers in South Africa.

In past weekly challenges, we’ve tried to get a better feel for this changing Earth, searching for local textures of Earth colors like fire and water. We’ve searched for resonance in ghosts and grief and sought ways to reach out to our animal family. We’ve tried to find new ground in renewal and hope.

That our daily language falls way short of expressing the depth and magnitude of these things—surface chatter of frighteningly deep ocean roar—it seems to me that our work as poets must be to find fuller expressions for a changing Earth. And as a global phenomenon, that work must include a diverse ecosystem of local voices.  It can’t just sound like Florida or Vancouver or New Delhi or Cape Town, but it does sound like a combination of all. High tech human civilization has lost most of its roots, so we have to recover nourishing sources and reclaim ruined terrain.

Our vocabulary desperately needs to enlarge and find nuance. Eskimos have many, many words for snow, but I wonder how many new ones are needed to describe the myriad moments and qualities of an Arctic in retreat. Glenn Albrecht—the originator of the term solastalgia which we explored at earthweal a few weeks ago—has a new book out titled Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, and in it he explores what he calls a psychoterratic vocabulary, naming positive and negative perceived and felt states of the Earth. His list includes sumbiology, the study of humans living together with the totality of life; terrafurie, extreme anger unleashed in those who witness the damage of techno-industrial society; and Symbiocene, a coming era in Earth history when humans make no discernable impact on the planet other than leaving their temporary remains behind. (Yay.)

This work of naming is not easy work, and all if it may be moot; the thing we have invoked may be the dragon of our dust. But what else are we to do? Narrow similes in heated rooms—the verbal stereotypy of lah-de-dah business as usual, everything’s fine here—is characteristic of narcotically happy places, those dreamlike suburbs of the real. It is the music of stalemate, the long half-life of decadence, where daily life “is the victim of its success.” (Russ Douthat, “The Age of Decadence”)  I submit that anti-life is killing our poetry as much as it is our world.

What beats so gloriously in a great poem is accidental in one sense—grace is no human invention—but it is also difficult. Online makes publication of anything easy, but poems which get to the heart of things must be carefully and diligently shaped. Farm work is hard labor, but as Wendell Berry writes, in farming and in poetry its difficulty is its possibility.

In one of Rilke’s famous exchange of letters to a young man struggling to decide on the vocation of poet, he writes about the difficult and its importance in our work:

Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

Finding sufficient language for a vastly changing Earth—including a radical revision of humanity’s place, importance, and work in it—is damned difficult work. For me, it’s like trying to write a sublime poem that doesn’t rhyme, or says everything in less than ten lines.

Writing a poem that speaks more with the Earth’s voice than mine—that is exceptionally difficult. The spacetime calibrations of meter and rhyme work for traversing the human hell, but what of the wilderness beyond? But if I don’t engage and labor and revise and find, all that’s left for me is drone; easy stuff, like happy hour in an opioid shooting gallery, painless and free, just heart and lungs way low and just either side of mortality’s gate.

Jack Gilbert wrote gorgeous poetry, but he was a relentless, never-satisfied reviser; difficulty was one essential ingredient.  (The patience to wait for the good stuff all the way in back was the other.) Who know how long it took to finish the following poem about getting to the heart of language:

THE FORGOTTEN LANGUAGE OF THE HEART

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

 Who knows: but certainly the result was worth the wait.

Now let’s see what news of our changing world we fine, way back there on the best shelves of our work!