A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature: over 400,000 monthly users
As the world rages to our east, and the fires flare up in Arizona, we have the first signs of spring – dark green spikes, crumbly surfaces around certain roots, the silent grunting of birth as the ground trembles with birth pangs. Wild blossoms are beginning to swell up inside their buds and to ease small cracks in their jackets. It’s exciting; it makes you kneel down in reverence at all these events as they occur in their modesty. The work goes on no matter the threat of new snow, or the roaring of wind against our windows. Nothing can reverse the surge of this organic tide, as it puts its powerful shoulder against the stiff edge of winter’s crust. I applaud every move to make us warm again, to fill the morning air with bird songs, to hear the crows overhead playing aerial games as they scour the ground looking for my wife’s kitchen scraps. They’re never disappointed. If I should go in early from my daily round, they will come down with their black umbrella wings and land as softly as a butterfly on the newly tufted sod and peck at the cold beans, the artichoke petals, the scum of an old jar of soup, and look around with a dazed eye at all this largesse.
Ron Desantis is the governor of Florida, and to the kids who watch the evening news, he is the great Nobodaddy who plots to destroy Disney World. He is the thief of magic, the man who puts on his wizard’s cape and star-crusted cone hat and waves a wand from his balcony to topple the castle turrets of make-believe. He would bother to eat a honeybee if he didn’t dread the possible sting of rebuke from the gallant little nectar reaper. He would nip all the buds out of the gardens just then waking from winter doldrums. He might even make the girls wear sack dresses or hair shirts and go to church twice daily and renounce all thoughts of a kiss in the dark or the scent of a boy’s hair in the desk in front. He is more shadow than substance, a man of vicious dark rhetoric and weird threats as he plots his way to the White House, where mischief is second nature to those who remember Trump. He preens before the cameras, and swaggers as he comes off stage to be surrounded by his bodyguards. He doesn’t trust any stranger who might approach with a hand out. You never know, he tells himself.
But that doesn’t deter my grass from growing as green as jade in the sod above our septic tank. All those organic meals we ate last winter has provided a slurry of nutritious proteins for the white roots that dangle down in the murky underworld. I sometimes think I hear music murmuring under the soil, as if some heavenly chorus were spending an idle afternoon entertaining the stray angels who roam in such mazy territory.
Poor old Brian Kemp, guv of Georgia, and the irascible whip-cracking Greg Abbot, guv of Texas, who vie for the title of most cruel also-ran in the race to 2024. Do either wonder if the voters will ever ask if these guys have gone down to the Inferno to plot with Mephistopheles and offer their warty souls to this embittered renegade from the golden age of Heaven? Does a voter scratch his head and mutter to his wife over dinner that he’s beginning to have some doubts about voting Republican this coming mid-term? After all, his daughter has come out that she’s bi, or trans, or some other non-binary efflorescence of her unfolding soul, and that weighs upon his fatherly heart. His wife may not say a word; she might think that if he comes up with a decision, it will be his own and he’ll stick with it. She has made up her own mind, one might think. She knows that the times are grinding on a deeply buried pivot that may be nature’s will expressing itself in the face of an over-crowded planet. You don’t mess with the life force, and it will intervene when we humans stray too far. And in this age, we have strayed far enough to heat the planet to madness.
Want to know what I fear the most when I can’t sleep? That we will heat the air so intensely we might just make the seas boil off and turn us into another Mars. We might all have to live underground with the grubs and the bleached root ends, and come up for a bit of sunshine on our birthdays. But we could inhabit one big Sahara if we are not careful. We might all have to make hijabs and wear them when we tend some sickly little garden at the end of a dead sea. We might have to take our camels down into the underworld with us, and let them drink from our tears. But there’s so little hope that the nations who live under the various oligarchies from here to Moscow will find the courage to tell the bankers and the brokers that we must take back the reins of our horses and save the world. Greed never had a moral bone in its body; hedge fund billionaires would screw up their faces at the very thought of having to make a small sacrifice of a yacht or a sequestered mega-palace to give some town a bit more energy to live on without polluting the sky. But I wouldn’t put any money on a crusading spirit suddenly sprouting like my geranium plants. Forget it.
What does Putin think about as he sits in one of those great Czarist chairs in a vast room of painted ceilings and gilded moldings? Does he ask himself if the Earth matters at all, so long as he can shake it like a piggy bank and get a few more ruples to add to his 200 billion dollar cache? Is there any other rival to his egomaniacal obsession with power? Does he care about a child, a wife, an old lover, a bosom buddy? I doubt it. When you get to his stage of isolation, he becomes Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver,” after he gets his Mohawk and a gun that slides out from under his sleeve. There is no self at home. Just a shell of a man who has been preempted by a satanic principle to destroy all that is not him. There lies the awful spectre of madness and revenge in the bottom of his soul. He is the patron saint of hate-mongering men now in power. He has tutored most of them in how to manipulate a public that clings to the hope that a leader will look out for them, protect them, be a kind of secular Christ to them. He promises, and he lies like a circus barker, and his illusions are spellbinding to all who live in his shadow.
And there lies the White House waiting for some autocrat to win election and take the seat of earth-incinerating power and rule over the smoking ruins of democracy. And our own oligarchs will grow fat and pampered under the egis of such a monster. Will the voter scratch his head at night after a cold beer and some pork chops, after the evening news and the warnings that we are headed for an era of revolution and tyranny? Will he push away his can of Bud and ask himself, what am I doing? Why am I so afraid of Asian women, and black women, and Hispanic women, and girls who glow in their beauty and perfection? Why vote for someone who shuts down the abortion clinics, and padlocks the Planned Parenthood offices? What goads such an ordinary soul to pull that lever? Isn’t Stacey Abrams and Ketanji Brown Jackson and Shirley Chisholm promise enough of the renaissance that could emerge from our tolerance and willingness to put faith in the female imagination? Wouldn’t the world feel better with a few women pulling the pig-iron levers of power in Washington? How many times must Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan write the dissenting opinions of a Surpeme Court that has lost its way in the dystopian world of polarization? When will such brave souls be taken seriously enough to slow the pendulum leading us back to the Dark Ages?
But the earth warms and the worms are devouring the flakes of gypsum and marl and leaving behind fertile loam as they wander the earth totally blind. How to thank such creatures of the dark? We are under the spell of magical beings who labor that we may all survive. We are their children, their feckless urchins, and they look out for us. The spiders hang from their fishnet webs and catch all the little blood-sucking pests that would otherwise inflict encephalitis and other curses upon us. But we take out our Raid cans and sacrifice them to the sterile hollows of our daily life. Forgive us, for we know not what we do.
We are all of us lying down at night in the great Earth Household, the towering stories of a castle in which all of created life shelters and survives. We must not mistake our fear for action. We are responsible for the greater life around us, and when we wake from our dream of individualism and realize we must hold the mop, push the broom, empty the trash, refuse the packaging around our food, reject the chemicals that enter us through our food, we will be taking our first footstep out of the Industrial Age and into the new era of sharing and holding up our end of the burden of caring and nurture.
Copyright 2022 Paul Christensen.
Paul Christensen is a poet and writer who lives in Vermont.