30 May 2010

Rain in Paradise and a National Day of Mourning

Here in paradise -- our little green island in Puget Sound where the giant corporation has so far NOT been able to build the giant industrial dock to haul away the gravel -- things are okay.  We have hardly seen the sun, and our high temperature for May is about 56 degrees, but the trees are green.  We opened up our old hive (Beatrice) to see if the new queen we got 3 weeks ago had finally got out of her cage and she had... So she's up near the top of the hive where the bees are really active.  

I've been obsessed with the oil spill for a month. Posting the poem was interesting.  My old poetry teacher let me know it needs a lot more work and he's right, and yet a lot of people responded to the ranting version I posted. Sometimes a rant seems like the right form.

But if the oil is going to keep erupting from the sea floor all summer -- which seems horribly likely -- there's plenty of time to work on poetics.  There's time to organize protests, boycotts, and poetry readings.  A lot of folks seem to be using this as an opportunity to vent their rage, often well justified rage, at corporate power, oligarchy, and poor leadership.  Many demand more anger, from the citizenry, from the president, from the Congress. 

And yeah, it makes sense that people are angry.  If that means, let's change the law so BP is liable for $10 or $50 Billion in damages, let's do it.  Let's bring criminal charges against those responsible, Svanberg and Hayward and the corporate officers and the "company man" who needed the drilling to go faster and anyone else involved, and anyone who falsified records, ignored safety regulations, failed to perform oversight.  Send them to an especially uncomfortable penitentiary in the deep South, with no AC and really bad food.

But often people get angry because it's less painful than grieving.  And anger is a much more socially acceptable emotion than grief, especially for men.  My own feeling is much more like grief.  I don't so much want to hear public official expressing anger as to hear them grieving.  Rep. Charlie Melancon wept giving testimony in congress last week.  It was sad to me that he was working so hard not to give in to it.  Tears are appropriate.  I'd like to see all of Congress weeping together in their chambers.

Demonstrations are terrific.  Calls for prosecution; for sure. Sign those petitions, boycott BP and their associates.  But I want a national day of mourning for the Gulf of Mexico, all the creatures and all the land and all the people who won't survive or will have their lives devastated by this.  We'd not shop, not drive, not burn the lights, not spend a nickel.  Walk around your neighborhood.  Talk about what this means.  Talk about the reality of Peak Oil -- we haven't run out of oil, but the oil we get comes at a higher and higher cost.  Look at pictures of pelicans and manatees and dolpins and bluefin tuna and think about a planet without them.  Eat fruits and vegetables that grew near where you live. Drink tap water.  Weep with your friends.  Read to your kids.  Plant something beautiful in your yard or the vacant lot down the block.

There are some good pictures of today's protest in New Orleans up at the NOLA web site:

Looks like it's raining down there too.

21 May 2010

Poem in Response to Gulf Oil Spill

To the Mother of Waters, To Whom We May No Longer Pray

Mother of Waters
we abuse you.
Here comes the Deluge we were warned of,
the blasted tower, the great Sacrifice.

Mother of Waters,
grave of the slaves
and of those who would not be enslaved
long home, resting place
heart’s ease to the troubled mind;

Mother of waters
speaker of Creole, French, Spanish, English,
Native languages, Native languages lost
African languages rooted now in the New World;

Our Lady of Purification
Star of the Sea
La Siréne,
Dolphin Woman,
we have turned our backs on you.

Mother of Waters, your children are dying
Ridley’s sea turtle
loggerhead sea turtle
green sea turtle
sperm whales, sei whales

Mother of Birds, how many hatch this spring
to suffocate or starve, abandoned by starving parents
piping plover
least tern

Suffocating in the oil we drill
starving from the oil we burn
dying in the oil we combust to carbon dioxide
to heat the planet
acidify the oceans
turn the living garden into a greenhouse
where creatures gasp for air.

We can’t live without burning it
for light for heat for medicine for driving to work
we can’t live without burning it
for television and Xboxes and cell phones and roller coasters
to kill our time.

So we kill phytoplankton
the bottom of the food web
those tiny, insignificant beings
upon whom everything depends.

We kill the oysters we love on the half-shell
jumbo shrimp
the bluefin tuna for our sushi
the crabs on the table
the crabs at the bottom of the bay
that eat the remains of the dead.

We have killed the bayou the bay
the coral reefs, sea-grass beds, Elmer’s Island,
Grande Isle, Plaquemines Parish, the Florida Keys.

Mother of Waters, Madame La Lune,
we did it ourselves.
we can’t ask you to save us
from our insatiable hunger
our mainline addiction worse than cocaine or sugar,
our thirst for novelty, our hunger for speed.

So we kill the gentle manatees, with pups at the nipple
blue whales, greatest of all mammals
fin whales
fearsome sharks, the terrible swordfish,
as we kill the roseate spoonbills
wood storks

As the shore goes, so goes the culture.
We are killing the soft voices of Creole,
music of New Orleans,
defiant joy of the second line,
the horns and the beads, the feather head-dresses
of the Mardi Gras Crewes.

Eleven died in the explosion.
Thousands more will go down:
the fishermen lose their boats
the families lose their houses
men lose themselves in beer and whiskey
children lose their families
women lose their living and their hopes
there’s no more fish in the sea
you can’t give those boats away…

Tonight at the table there is no red snapper;
nobody comes to look at the sea tonight.

Someone hands out small checks
someone checks the map for the next place to drill
a family fills the tank with gas to drive inland, away from the sea.

Mother of Waters
oh Gran Bois, Grandmother of the Sacred Forest
we can’t even learn wisdom from this catastrophe
like children playing with matches
who burn down the house
we don’t even know we did it to ourselves.

So we bury them under the sand
with diesel bulldozers
the bodies of herons
of gannets
of rails
of ducks
of osprey
of sand pipers
the brown pelican who dove straight into the water
and came up choking.

In the bars of Louisiana tonight
someone carries sweating bottles of beer to the table
for the workers who fought the oil all day.
Someone lights a candle in the cathedral in New Orleans and mumbles a prayer
someone lays a blue cloth on the altar, sacrifices a fresh egg and seven tears
someone lies on the floor to listen to the surf
that smells of salt and oil.

Out in the shallows the crabs are dying
in the marsh the frogs and crickets die
the birds die, whales die
the fishing boats come back from laying containment booms
hulls stained black
the shrimpers have collected the last shrimp from the beds
their fingers stick together with oil.

Mother of Waters, Mother of Storms,
Lady Oya of the torn curtains, Grandmother Hurricane,
we are still not wise enough to listen
to the voices of the dead,
the voices of the ancestors
the voices of the sea.

We can’t hear the waves
telling us what we sacrificed
on the altar of our sickness
our altar of capital.

We would rather die than give up the oil.
We would rather burn down our house.
We would rather kill every living thing.
We would rather plow the bodies of brown pelicans under the sand.
We would see the manatees rotting in the now-tropical sun
the sweet green fields of the South turn to desert
the great Amazon turning to smoke
the canyon on fire, the last glacier melted
the ocean glutted with plastic, gray with oil
the children picking through garbage on bare asphalt.

This is the choice we have made
Star of the Sea
Aphrodite, wave-born
we make it every single day.

Who can we pray to now?
As your children go down silently
through thousands of feet
of oiled ocean water.

Plastic bags blow in the streets of Seattle,
plastic circles in the great Pacific garbage gyre. 

Mother of Waters
what would it take for us to stand mourning on the beaches
of Louisiana, of Mississippi, of Alabama,
of Mexico, of Texas
the white sand beaches of Florida
the Outer Banks of the Carolinas
on the shores of Puget Sound,
Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay
on the banks of the Potomac
on the shores of the Thames
on the banks of the Seine
all along the Yellow River
and say
No more oil.

How many tears will we shed
How many die in the explosions
How many dead in the waters
How many families lose their homes
How many beaches poisoned
How many billions in quarterly profits
How many forests on fire
How many crops devoured by insects
How many climate refugees on the move
How many springs infiltrated by salt
How many glaciers melted
How many more drilling rigs
How many more cars
How many more entertainment systems
How many more jet flights to see what’s left of the world --

Before we stand together on the ruined beaches
trying to catch our breaths in the oil-tainted air
children weeping
everyone hungry
bones of the dead birds scattered in thick waters
no one in the deep to hear us
no answering voice comes back to us
before we say it --

Mother of Oceans
when will we say it?
No more oil
No more oil
No more oil.

02 May 2010

Gulf Oil Leak

All week it's been growing. First they said 42,000 gallons a day.  Then they said 5,000 BARRELS a day -- which means about 210,000 gallons.  A report from NOAA, leaked, said that this could increase by an order of magnitude, if the leaking oil pipeline ruptures just a little bit more -- that would be, um, 50,000 barrels a day?  2,100,000 gallons a day -- an Exxon Valdez every six days.
The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, 50 miles off the coastal wetlands of Louisiana, exploded on April 22, killing 11 people.  In future days we might refer to this as the "Earth Day Oil Disaster." The oil is now spreading into those wetlands.  The satellite photographs show a whirlpool like a distant galaxy of oil on the water.

It's breeding season for the brown pelicans, reddish egrets, mottled ducks, and royal terns, all threatened species that raise their young on those barrier reefs, islands, low-lying wetlands.  They're already crowded -- the wetlands and reefs have been disappearing rapidly. They're already stressed, threatened, diminished.

Last night I told Bob I thought it would be 42 days before the oil was capped; he says 90 days. [Later clarified: he said it would STILL BE FLOWING in 90 days.] I keep trolling the internet for something more -- a meaningful commentary, an in-depth report -- and all I find are the neutral work of reporters describing the grim mood in the coastal towns, photographs of the original explosion and the doomed birds, diagrams of the damaged well and possible strategies for capping or plugging or diverting it.  And reader comments, by the thousands, most of them observing the conventions of RED versus BLUE skits -- a polarized set of insults even more reductionist than the old conservative versus liberal "debates."

What else can we do but worry, type insults to our perceived political enemies, and curse the oil industry?

I envision walking across the country to New Orleans, dressed in black, and beating very slowly on a drum with a brown pelican painted on it.  I see baskets of oil-soaked crabs and oysters and dead birds delivered to the doorsteps of BP executives and dumped on top of the Sunday papers.  Let's have a car-free day on the 22nd of each month for the next year.  Let's boycott BP and send them personal letters scrawled by hand on pieces of paper torn from children's copy books.  Let's all wear black every day until the well is capped. Let's all send five bucks to Louisiana Audubon.  Let's demonstrate at our local BP stations.

What do we need to do as a nation? We need to make a commitment to carbon-free energy sources as serious as the commitment we made to World War II: every able-bodied adult participates, every industry has something to do, every aspect of daily life changes. We need to amend the Constitution to forbid corporate personhood. We need to take apart the oil industry.  We need to do everything to conserve, everything to transition our energy sources, everything to bring manufacturing and food production closer to home.  We need to consume less and get a lot more mileage out of every kilowatt, every calorie, every gallon of oil.

The oil flowing out of that well today is going to be in the coastal wetlands of Louisiana this week; on the East Coast of Florida in June; entering Chesapeake Bay in July.  I fear we're going to loose some species from this. Others will go from hanging on to barely surviving. The fishing industry is going to take a several-year hit; some shellfish and fishing areas may never recover.  The oil is on its way home to Washington DC,  home to New York, home to the coast of Britain.

If this doesn't wake us up, what will?