October 24, 2014

Existential Crisis & Tiny Disasters. {Poem}

environmental crisis

Every moment:

A crisis of conscience
In this modern marvel
Civilized world of ours…

Which energy efficient lightbulb?
The one requiring hazmat to clean up its deadly dust
Or the one made an ocean away by poorly paid labor.
I stand staring for an hour at the lightbulbs.
Walking to and fro
Sign to sign
Picking up each package in turn.
Weighing the evils of each and the potential for my own ignorance.
What unknown evils may lurk…
What might I unwittingly support with this
Ten dollars of my budget.
Which will use less energy and ultimately
bleed less
of the green
From this hemorrhage,
spilling, falling
Slipping, filling the pockets of utility monopolies,
Holding me hostage
With ever increasing fees
To make up for falling trees
On ancient lines
And collapsing mines
On black lunged men who
Work hard to eat.
Like the one I met at the gateway arch.
We rode the tiny barrel shaped elevator
To the top while he jawed on about his comfort
In small spaces,
And the importance of the fossil fuel industry.
A crude but nice man who coughed much.

I think about him every now and then…
Sometimes when I pump gas into my tiny Toyota.
After all, a fossil fuel
Is a fossil fuel
Is a fossil fuel.
I think about him at the gas pump,
And about the oil rigs I spotted
All across the Midwest
Dotting the landscape by the thousands…
And about my sweet cousin
Who is almost completely shattered
Mind destroyed by his lengthy stay in
The Middle East.
I think about Arab Springs,
And tear gas canisters,
And fire hoses trained on
Random women and men
Covering their faces to keep their skin…
And I wonder if I should buy a hybrid.

I drive by yet another hill,
Flattened sides, vent pipes, dull grassy slope.
My seven year old no longer asks if this one
Is a trash mountain.
He has passed enough now to know one.
I picture that hybrid battery sitting inside
This mountain of trashy majesty
When my son is bent and wrinkled with years.
I think of the coal miner’s cough….
And of the contrast between
a life in the sardine-can city
Where my legs would move more
But my lungs would breathe in more shit.
Where my car could be sold,
But my garden could hardly grow.
Where communities that thrive or struggle together
Paycheck to paycheck,
Bread bag to bread bag,
Are one catastrophe away
From perishing together.
I think of suburban sprawl and shopping malls
And acres of green grass…
And miracle-gro poisoned streams
And American dreams
And soccer teams in South America
And whether my son’s one and only swing-set
should be cheap and crappy and used
Because even that is still better
Than the spaces my uncle’s Filipino neighbors
Have to play in…
Or whether it should be pressure treated and new
Because of all the things in this life that I have been
Unable to provide my son,
Including a loving father and the little sister he has always wanted,
This swing-set is one thing I can offer
As insignificant as it might be….

I think about the unknown pea green dangers of treated wood,
About Chinese labor, Chinese wood, Chinese cargo barges
Pulling into port in the depressed city of Aberdeen, Washington.
I think about that beautiful, natural, nontoxic swingset
Made in the grand ‘ole U S of A of Redwood…
And the logging trucks I watched
winding their way down Route 1
On the California coast.
The logs on the back a heartbreaking
Dozen or two feet in diameter.
I think about how much just one thousand USD could buy
In so many parts of the world
Where peoples’ children play on grounds covered in raw sewage.
Lacking in so much more than the few troubles
In the life my dear sweet son was blessed with.
Will the lack of a swingset
in this i-Infested nation
Encourage him to lead a sedentary life?
Will the movements of his thumbs
Gradually replace those of his tireless young legs?
Will he miss out on the fun of this innocent childhood pleasure?
Or will the frivolousness of such a purchase spoil him?
What example does it set
for me to know, doubtless,
The value of each of those dollars,
The magnitude of those beautiful trees,
The depths of despair of an impoverished existence,
And still hand that salesman that
Little plastic card?

Goddamn all these tiny disasters,
These daily battles,
These lightbulbs and batteries,
And toxic greens,
And men wearing union tees
And magnificent trees and collapsing bees
And electricity fees.
And damn these trash Everests never ending
And all this extra packaging
And damn this “Made in China” sticker
Stuck to this and that
And every item in this Home Depot store
Ever since those wars
I can’t shop no more
(Can’t sleep either)
Ever since
Every choice in the world.
Ever since
simple existence
Became a crisis of conscience

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Francisco Anzola/Flickr

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