POEM: A Royal Buzzkill

Bee
The change
That you wish
In the whirled
Too see
O Mother Earth
Undertaking
Men o’ pause
In-fertility rite
As nature fecund wanes
A roil buzzkill
Soon with death teeming
Wear is thy sting
Extincting that human race
Soully certifiable reproductions
Unfit as a specious
Forerunners to know end
Yet today, this solitary caged bird sings
Like a canary
In a cold mine
With its deadly presents
Colorless and odious executioner
The lynch pin of anonymous hoods
Haunting all
That which is called “natural”
Sow fumes miasma
Till hour last breath

This poem is another mournful environmental poem, with the steady decline of bees as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the deathly threat to the ecology of the earth.  Of course, the stoic denial and fatalism of human-induced climate change through fossil fuel consumption reaps a Mother Earth whose only defense may be to open a Pandora’s box capable of “naturally” selecting the human race from an internal combustion race to a mere foot race, where humans are no longer large enough scale to crash the entire planet’s ecological system.  If we don’t change course and evolve into an ecologically-sustainable species, we will be devolved into a much less dominant species.  Whether this would represent an evolution or devolution would have to be reflected upon by many fewer homo sapiens.

While we as a species are still living high on the fumes of burning fossil fuels, the buzzkill of bee genocide may lead the way to the end of agriculture as we know it, and the end of human culture as we know it.  Our unchecked industrialism, fueled by the burning of carbon-based energy forms, may very well lead to our checking out as the predominant species on earth.  Could this bee the end of the world? as so aptly asked in an article of the same title:

Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Einstein wasn’t an insect expert but he had a point. The humble honeybee is an integral part of the global ecosystem. Honey is just one aspect of what this entomological wonder does. As a pollinator it ensures crops reproduce, so although a world without honey would be a poorer place, man would survive. But without plants, we’d become extinct.

…On a global scale, it is estimated a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees…

…The introduction to the 2010 UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] report into global bee colony disorders puts the insects’ plight in context. It states, “Current evidence demonstrates that a sixth major extinction of biological diversity event is under way. The Earth is losing between 1 and 10 per cent of biodiversity per decade, mostly due to habitat loss, pest invasion, pollution, over-harvesting and disease.” It asked, “Has a ‘pollinator crisis’ really been occurring during recent decades, or are these concerns just another sign of global biodiversity decline?”

Unchecked domination is not the nature of nature.  Either homo sapiens will learn to live in harmony with nature as a whole, or our ability to dominate will be cut down to scale.  As throughout countless generations, we are faced with choosing harmony or destruction.  Nature has patiently endured our penchant for destruction.  Nature cannot be violated forever.  Nature’s feedback is gentle and generous.  Only fools destroy the hand that feeds them.  Will we be fools in the largesse weigh?

POEM: Ebola US Over

Ebola US over
When fear metes science
When we no what too due
Still, rabidly executing our will
As wee act in sanity
Cheap as rationed rationality
Upscale absurdity
As some fret butler
Frankly red-faced, not giving a damn
As long as they are on the winning genocide
As good as dread
Only wont
Too feel safe
Feverishly incubating terrors
In the timed, spaced continuum
Of the perpetual see of terminable daze
Enduring weaks
Of what dismay
Or may knot
Deliver us
Into harm’s weigh
Stamping out indignantly
Aversion of reality
We cannot except
Fomenting in a culture
Fixed on negative results
Mirrorly symptoms apprehended
Temperatures rising
Going viral
As the unexplained hemorrhages
Everything alarmingly scene
As through
A prism of fear
For which there is no anti-dote
Forever catching
US on the flip side
Little escaping what is in
Our nature
Passing
On that sore option
Liquefying our cells
Or seizing only
That which is key
To the beginning of our end
In courage unbolting
And open fortitude
That other wise will
To our enemies heel
Yet for all won knows
Bolus over with a feather
Joining farces with that gag reel
Fore what bitter medicine than that
Given the bird
That can’t swallow
Or a flee
In deed doggedly drug
A collar
Not worthy a copper or gumshoe
So give it a rest

I wrote this poem a while back, just after the first Ebola case showed up in the United States.  I have training and experience in public health, and I worked in the 1990’s in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Communicating risk accurately is difficult, particularly in an environment of fear and histrionics. Also, it doesn’t help that the scientific literacy level of the American public is disabling in this matter.  As a scientist and poet, I hope that this poem offers some insight into such conundrums.

Fear and ignorance are a lethal combination, and they have a nefarious synergy with infectious disease outbreaks.  Ignorance often leads to a dangerous undervaluing of prevention early in an epidemic.  Then, when the epidemic becomes visible, closer to home, fear often demands actions that are often useless or counterproductive.  If confusion prevails amidst a population, infectious disease can flourish, as energies are squandered on off-mark enterprises and scientifically-validated methods are not sufficiently adhered to, often because of ignorance and suspicion, even if plenty of fear and concern is present as a motivator.

The Ebola virus is particularly lethal, yet it is not easily transmissible nor transmissible in people without easily-identified symptoms (though not necessarily Ebola-specific symptoms).  The chains of Ebola transmission can be broken.  We need to persistently apply our abundant knowledge about Ebola, with a measure of courage, to defeat it.  If our unfounded fears overwhelm our capacity to address Ebola in a rational manner, then the legitimate fear that Ebola poses us will become unnecessarily magnified into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

May we drum up the courage and resolve to fight Ebola based on what we know well rather than that which is uncertain and subject to fear-mongering.

POEM: His Hole Life

His hole life
He refused to get carried away
Keeping his emotions in check
A promissory note
Just enough to cover his pallbearers

A noteworthy life, one that is lived wholeheartedly, is not without passion. Life: it’s all in the risk.  The point of life is not to arrive safely in your grave.  As Helen Keller so aptly declared, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”  A life reserved is a life lost.  We must loose our life in order to gain it!  In my first short story as an adult (yet to be published) a character is recounted (after his disappearance and murder) as saying “he suspected that God had little interest in us being saved, and is infinitely more interested in us being gloriously well spent.”  In the movie Steel Magnolias, the character Shelby says that “I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” Her mother is giving her grief as she is newly pregnant and terminal.  There is always room for another baby in the world; it’s the adults that make it crowded.  In this life, may we all be newly pregnant, for we are all surely terminal.  As we are all present in this awkward period between birth and death, may our soul be bared before our body buried.

POEM: Rare Prayer

I found myself
In rare prayer
A genus reserved for
Mother’s ilk
Only doing what
Kin be done
In udder neglect
Of that long a go
Cached in
Fore more sensible weighs
Now wholly saved
For foxholes
The mass
Of desperate men
And occasional women
Re-sorting
In rare prayer
As raw flesh exposed
With feudal armor flailing miserably
In stoic winsome
God’s mourning dawns
As initiate
Such supplication
With a hesitant plea
Claiming how sow little requested
And sow far between
Only mildly disappointed with the crop received
In won’s life
With such scanty solicitations
The ground of my being
Like an ungraceful sludge hammer cleaving diamonds
Seaming as a sedimental journey at best
A grime scene at worst
A present cut to ribbons
Stairing into a box
Bound for eternity
And still
As I here, a response
An uncommon sense
A peel for more
In treat awe
Even the one
Who reveres coarse
And bars none
The less
The great
I am
Fooly in chanted
Soully to that call
Which cannot be herd
Accept bye
One’s self

This poem was inspired by a prayerful moment at a protest to stop the BP refinery in Oregon, Ohio, from investing 2.5 billion dollars to retool to process tar sands, the dirtiest source of petroleum yet sought after by oily men. Toward the end of the demonstration, I found myself at the fence reflecting on the unlikelihood that we would be able to stop this fuelish investment in an environmentally destructive infrastructure, a generations-long commitment of resources to a dirty energy future, an asphalt super-highway to perdition.

The “rare” prayer in this poem, not surprisingly has several meanings. While I quite easily, with great frequency, say a prayer of thanks, I rarely ask God for anything very specific.  I can’t help but experience a feeling of hubris in the notion that God is waiting to align the universe according to my requests.  Also, this is a personal spiritual practice and practical way for me to decouple from the many manipulative aspects of religion, as if God exists to serve my will.  I am quite thrilled with God’s creation and how magnificently convenient it serves my will and purposes.  In this sea of grace, any desire to bend the world to my will seems like disgruntlement.   Most any traditional prayer life has been leveled by my integration into my heart of the mystic Meister Eckhart quote, “If there were but one prayer, ‘Thanks,’ would suffice.”  However, there are the occasional moments when I feel particularly vulnerable or mournful.  This is where the “rare” is “As raw flesh exposed.”  The world is definitely a mournful place.  Discord and loss are everyday experiences.  Harmony-seekers must confront ignorance, apathy, and outright intransigence.

In the face of the powers that be at BP, I can fantasize about God sending down a pillar of fire to destroy such intransigent offenders.  Unfortunately, this perverse desire is in much too scary alignment with the very BP offenders I wish to see punished or expunged from our shared reality we call earth.  Such greedy and spiritually lazy offenders wish nothing more than to secure their own little world from its many vulnerabilities and impinging insecurities.  Well, my God is not a mighty fortress!  My God is the giver of life, unmerited as we turn out to be at times.  My God mourns with me as discord and destruction rains.  My God is present in “it all,” yearning and wooing us to live fully, not settling for lesser dreams, half-truths, and lives broken into pieces.  I got the answer to my prayer before I even finished it.  As I was engaging God with talk of how I ask for stuff so infrequently, and how I don’t ask for much, I was gently but firmly and unmistakenly reminded that God does not want me to make merely occasional, hesitant or apologetic pleas for incrementally better lives.  God’s will for our life is for whole lives, lived boldly, even in the face of seeming intractable brokenness.  God incessantly invites us to be people of hope, a living hope which becomes incarnate in the world by boldly living in consonance with that hope.  In case this bold sentiment might be doubted, my quick prayer and swift response was punctuated with the crowd of witnesses present that day boldly singing about how we will not compromise, neither our hopes nor our demands for a world full of harmony.  God works in strange in mysterious ways.  Sometimes not so mysterious — though perhaps somewhat strange to some.

POEM: Capitalism Perfected

Capitalism perfected
Wear every won
Cells their soul
And when
Every body
No’s that
They have
A fare price
For dreams fabricated
And nightmares awoken

This poem’s title has a misleading title which implies that capitalism can be perfected. The twist in the rest of the poem is that it rebukes the illusion that capitalism can fulfill our dreams, free our souls, or save us from our nightmares feared.  Instead of settling on a fair price in selling our souls (even if it reaps a profit of the whole world), we must reject this false reality and accept the fare, the cost, the price, of a higher way, which can preserve and nourish our souls.  The comedian and social commentator, George Carlin, once said, “They call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”  Waking up to the pricelessness of our souls is the foundation of an architecture and arc of living that money cannot buy.  Saying “No” to capitalism, the reduction of human values to monetary terms, is a worthy start to life as a free range human being.  Returning money to a mere convenience for exchange of goods and services and toppling money and the “economy” from their god-like status are prerequisites for a flourishing humanity.  Humans should not be domesticated around the needs of money or the “economy.”  A properly ordered life is one where money serves humans, not humans serving money.  Whenever there is a conflict between humans and the things that money can buy, people should come first — not including corporate persons!  As Jesus so aptly put it, “You can’t serve both God and money.”  Capitalism perfected is capitalism put in its place, firmly at the feet of humanity, never to rise above the least of human beings.

POEM: Know More Than Sentimental Fuels

I am petroleum
I am coal
I am “natural” gas
Set me free
From my dark and stony hearth
My fiery nature lying in wait
Sow vent on destruction
And I will bequeath
Once-in-an-eon jobs
That you will blow
In your cracking and fracking
As so much money
With climate change to spare
Busy having
The tomb of your life
For when civilization collapses
And you are waste deep interred
With my underworld nature unleashed
Meting yours
I will catacomb your world
Exchanging your place for mine
And what remains of humanity
At best will see me
As know more than a sentimental fuel
Spewing out worthless airs
To the end of the earth

I find myself writing more and more poems about our environment, particularly about the crisis of climate change.  This aptly reflects my conviction that dealing with climate change and establishing a sustainable harmony with mother nature is the biggest challenge that humanity faces this century.  I feel confident saying this, even though we are still early in the century.

This poem is written as a first person poem, where carbon-based energy forms, long sequestered safely underground, encourage us to free them from their long-established place in nature.  In this poem, the personification of carbon-based energy takes on a demonic, underworld character.  The promise of “once-in-an-eon jobs” seems an offer more than generous enough to lock us unto our fossil fuelish addiction.  Now, I don’t believe in demons, surely none emanating from mother nature’s bosom.  But who needs hell when you have greedy and lazy humans who apparently would rather drown in their own waste than pay adequate respect to their mother.  Humans have, in effect, made themselves a bunch of mothers — and not very good ones. This is original sin; the rest is derivative.  I see no animus in mother earth.  Still, nature does have boundaries with predictable feedback.  If mother earth keeps have to dealing with all this human shit, then I expect mother earth will have enemas.  And even us fans of the earth will get hit with it…

POEM: The Death of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier

He was a Baby with a capital B
A ruler by which so many would be judged
He was unjust
A child of 20
A President for life
A President for death
As so many capriciously dyin’ with a king
An entourage of automatic weapons and complimentary wine
Drunk with power
As a prince of port
Celebrating fear
Of those his pathos cross
In the company of thieves
A bout to meet their maker
In the chaos of Haiti borne
I was just
A child of 10
With a father doc of my own
Standing up like so many others
In a sense wondering
Who had come before me
And what might fallow
Only to depart so quickly
As a pre-mature baby with terminal rashness
Vainly hoping to reach ode age
Goon before we know it
And such is life
I dash to the winnow
Like a babe in the woulds
Mirrorly site seeing
Unschooled in this deathly land escape
As my mother
Without peer
Pulled me to her side
That one side that fits awe
Only hereafter to learn
In do time
With respects
To wrest in peace

I wrote this poem this morning after hearing of the death of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, a former president of Haiti, much more aptly described as a brutal dictator.  I was born in Haiti while my parents were serving there as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee.  Our family returned to visit Haiti in 1971, soon after “Baby Doc” inherited the family dictatorship from his father, “Papa Doc.” This poem recounts an incident when we were dining in a restaurant in Port-Au-Prince, the capitol of Haiti, when “Baby Doc” came in for a meal.  I was ten years old.  All of the sudden, everyone in the restaurant stood up.  And as is the etiquette in a foreign country, when everybody around you does something, follow suit.  We stood up.  “Baby Doc” and his entourage of guards armed with automatic weapons entered.  The proprietors of the restaurant quickly prepared a few tables for them directly adjacent to our table.  We were mere feet from three tables occupied by the president and his armed guards. Complimentary wine was ordered for all of the restaurant’s guests. Of course, I found all of this quite fascinating.  They ate and left rather quickly, and I scurried to the window to capture yet more of this gawk-worthy event.  My mom quickly and discreetly rounded me back up and pulled my away from the window.  Only later did she share the worry that such behavior could be viewed as suspicious and perhaps dangerous.

The death of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was experienced by countless Haitians who were murdered and disappeared.  This morning there were probably relatively few Haitians mourning the death of this one man.  May Haiti continue to recover from the death brought by his reign, among so many other troubles and challenges.  The experiences of myself and my family in Haiti continue to give me a life-long perspective from which to work for justice and wrest in peace.

POEM: The Awe Might He Acorn

The acorns fall
Like reign
From above
As the mighty yoke is broken
Flailing to grasp the gravity of the situation
Each won
A tiny oak
Tolled by nature
If only
Such nuts
Can hold there ground
And a void
Either being
Squirreled away
As the winter takes root
Or perhaps robin
Their shady future

I wrote this poem amidst writing another poem.  I was reclining on one of the benches outside the Toledo Museum of Art, in the sculpture garden that is their front lawn.  This bench happened to be under a large oak tree.  There was a slow rain of acorns punctuating my experience.  I was hit several times as I interrupted the arc of the acorn-gravity continuum.  The squirrels seemed quite domesticated, likely due to their stomping grounds being traversed by a pedestrian highway populated by humans more civilized than normal.  One squirrel, only half a dozen feet away from me, nibbled on the abundance of freshly fallen acorns, seemingly satisfied with compromising each acorn shell within grasp, taking a quick nibble, and then tossing the acorn aside.  This struck me as being a bit wasteful. Yet, the scarcity of my perspective was in sharp contrast to the overabundance of acorns, of which nature unlikely intended each acorn to become a mighty oak tree.  This situation reminded me of an aphorism: the mighty oak is simply a tiny nut that held its ground.  Of course, in the complexity of nature, perhaps the author of this aphorism might have amended it to include something about that nut avoiding his cranium being crushed by a squirrelly beast.  My daughter has a serious fright about squirrels.  The origins of this fear are unidentifiable.  Perhaps she was an acorn in a previous life and a squirrel nonchalantly crushed her cranium and then casually threw her aside, thinking nothing of her casualty.

Sometimes the job of a poet is to take seemingly mundane or routine occurrences and infuse them with epic meaning.  While the crushing of one’s cranium by a seemingly harmless squirrel may be an apt definition of epic meaning, I look to more hopeful outcomes.  In this case, it is the off-chance, against-the-odds probability that even one acorn in the season of life survives, even thrives, to become a mighty oak.  From a sheer statistical point of view, this could be viewed as the fodder of a cruel joke.  But, alas, after a dark, cold winter, on occasion, as predictable as rare, the surviving sun teems with such fodder to produce a mighty oak which can outlive even the many seasonings on human life.  Of course, you first have to be a nut to truly believe this.  And if by some miracle you survive, even thrive, you will truly be for the birds…and even overly generous to those cranium-crushing squirrels squandering your babies.

POEM: A Strange Gift From Smother Earth

I awoke
Too the rumble
Of a river of cars
Getting the goods
Being trucked over and over
As fuming motorists
And fuelish consumers
Whirled wide
Tank up
With great import
As their gauges reach emptily
A diction
Beyond words
Feeding this uneconomic engine
Internally combusting
A humanity greased
Plunged into a vain artery
So so leading
To an err tight garage sail
N’air to see O2 again
Only lust C’ing a singular “O!”
To be
Fallowed buy
Cryptic silence
As nature returns
A strange gift from smother earth

This poem was inspired by awaking to the rumble of cars and trucks from I-75 about a mile from my house.  I am quite familiar with this noise pollution, a steady hum 24/7, though I usually only take notice of it at night or in the morning while lying in bed.  Noise (and light) pollution are on my short list of pet peeves and everyday side effects of so-called civilization.  However, this poem meditates on the constant stream of air pollution and inevitable environmental destruction from a carbon-based energy economy and transportation system.  The congested arteries of our highways and buy ways consternate both motorists and Mother Earth — not to mention pedestrians and bicyclists.  This poem also alludes to the military shenanigans (as we “tank up”) needed to assure a steady supply of a crude lifestyle.  The addiction to petroleum leads us to morally depraved measures of success, such as the accepted norm that destroying the environment is part and parcel to a good economy.  Such insanity brings to mind the wise aphorism: don’t shit where you eat.  The metaphor of drowning in our own waste is incarnated in this poem as the suicide of exhausted and fuming motorists in their garages, the final resting place of going nowhere fast.  This poem requires a certain knowledge of chemistry to be fully comprehended, specifically the chemical structure of carbon monoxide.  If you also know that carbon monoxide preferentially binds, in place of oxygen, on hemoglobin, then you can more fully appreciate the breathtaking nature of this poem.  The feedback of nature is neither random nor mean-spirited.  Nonetheless, if humans insist on living in unsustainable ways, then nature will weed us out or prune us down to size.  Perhaps this is poetic justice for smother earth…

POEM: Show Down With That

A mid-afternoon cloud drifts along
Down below, high noon stretches into its fourth hour
Brazen vapors pining to be seen
A vain tease its silver linings
To dormant soles never looking up
Know glorious rays today!
As nature out laud
No show down with that
A stare way to heaven
Or sight unseeing
Such a gossamer cover-up
Of happiness so lean

I started this poem in a notebook earlier this year while out for a walk and stopping to admire the clouds. I finished it recently; a bit unusual given the dozens of pages of unfinished poems in my poetical universe. This poem struck me as a good Monday poem, especially after unexpectedly nice weekend weather. As many people head back to work on Monday, this poem is a reminder to look up and experience the majesty that is nature. Appreciating the little things in life is the stuff of happiness.

Nature is not particularly adept at hiding itself. Still, people often find a way to allow nature to go unwitnessed for extended periods of time. Nature bids us happiness. Outbidding nature is dangerous to our happiness. May you find your life leaning to happiness.