Tuesday, April 22, 2014

National Poetry Month—Four for Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.  It seemed like a very big deal when it was introduced in 1970 when the Environmental Movement as we know it was still in its relative infancy having grown out the earlier Conservation Movement that emphasized the husbanding of natural resources for human use.  It seems in those early years when hundreds of thousands responded to calls to march or participate in some way that real change was possible.
And, of course, much was accomplished—the EPA and increased regulation of pollution, the hands-on movement to re-cycle and re-use, the on-going involvement of children which critics charge has become a virtual secular religion.  But despite it all, the Planet is in more desperate shape today than it was then.  The Cassandra warnings about climate change have come true in spades, faster than anyone really expected.  Yet resistance to real change to address the root causes has never been more fierce—or more successful—as it is fueled by billionaire exploiters and exploited by rabid right wing movements.  If liberals love the Planet, conservatives MUST attack it wrapping themselves in an ideology of unfettered capitalism on one hand and apocalyptic Evangelical claims that the End of Days is a hand so humans can and should squeeze every ounce of value from the Earth that will be thrown away anyway on the other.
Meanwhile the Earth Day celebration has been tamed, made nice worth all of five minutes mention on the Nightly News and some grade school art projects.  We are told that “we must not make it political, because everyone loves the Earth”—a lie on the face of it.
So much for my annual rant.  Time for some poetry.
The Transcendentalists in this country and their cousin German and English Romantics introduced a whole new way of conceiving and appreciating Nature, which had traditionally been viewed a hostile force which Man must conquer, tame, and exploit to survive.  They were the first—in the “civilized” world to value Nature on its own terms and even to exalt it for the lessons it could teach.  Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is often considered the first major environmental text. Thoreau’s buddy and Walden Pond landlord Ralph Waldo Emerson chipped in with his break through essay Nature which made him a household name.  He also had some poetry on the subject.
Song of Nature

Mine are the night and morning,
The pits of air, the gulf of space,
The sportive sun, the gibbous moon,
The innumerable days.

I hid in the solar glory,
I am dumb in the pealing song,
I rest on the pitch of the torrent,
In slumber I am strong.

No numbers have counted my tallies,
No tribes my house can fill,
I sit by the shining Fount of Life,
And pour the deluge still;

And ever by delicate powers
Gathering along the centuries
From race on race the rarest flowers,
My wreath shall nothing miss.

And many a thousand summers
My apples ripened well,
And light from meliorating stars
With firmer glory fell.

I wrote the past in characters
Of rock and fire the scroll,
The building in the coral sea,
The planting of the coal.

And thefts from satellites and rings
And broken stars I drew,
And out of spent and aged things
I formed the world anew;

What time the gods kept carnival,
Tricked out in star and flower,
And in cramp elf and saurian forms
They swathed their too much power.

Time and Thought were my surveyors,
They laid their courses well,
They boiled the sea, and baked the layers
Or granite, marl, and shell.

But he, the man-child glorious,--
Where tarries he the while?
The rainbow shines his harbinger,
The sunset gleams his smile.

My boreal lights leap upward,
Forthright my planets roll,
And still the man-child is not born,
The summit of the whole.

Must time and tide forever run?
Will never my winds go sleep in the west?
Will never my wheels which whirl the sun
And satellites have rest?

Too much of donning and doffing,
Too slow the rainbow fades,
I weary of my robe of snow,
My leaves and my cascades;

I tire of globes and races,
Too long the game is played;
What without him is summer’s pomp,
Or winter's frozen shade?

I travail in pain for him,
My creatures travail and wait;
His couriers come by squadrons,
He comes not to the gate.

Twice I have moulded an image,
And thrice outstretched my hand,
Made one of day, and one of night,
And one of the salt sea-sand.

One in a Judaean manger,
And one by Avon stream,
One over against the mouths of Nile,
And one in the Academe.

I moulded kings and saviours,
And bards o’er kings to rule;—a  
But fell the starry influence short,
The cup was never full.

Yet whirl the glowing wheels once more,
And mix the bowl again;
Seethe, fate! the ancient elements,
Heat, cold, wet, dry, and peace, and pain.

Let war and trade and creeds and song
Blend, ripen race on race,
The sunburnt world a man shall breed
Of all the zones, and countless days.

No ray is dimmed, no atom worn,
My oldest force is good as new,
And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Beat Buddhist Gary Snyder was read and cherished by many in the Environmental movement for work like this.
Burning Island

O Wave God      who broke through me today   
    Sea Bream
    massive pink and silver
    cool swimming down with me watching   
                      staying away from the spear

Volcano belly Keeper who lifted this island
    for our own beaded bodies adornment
    and sprinkles us all with his laugh—
                      ash in the eve
    mist, or smoke,
    on the bare high limits—
               underwater lava flows easing to coral
                      holes filled with striped feeding swimmers

O Sky Gods      cartwheeling
    out of   Pacific
    turning rainsqualls over like lids on us   
    then shine on our sodden—
               (scanned out a rainbow today at the   
                      cow drinking trough   
                            sluicing off
            LAKHS of crystal Buddha Fields   
            right on the hair of the arm!)

Who wavers right now in the bamboo:   
   a half-gone waning moon.
                  drank down a bowlful of shochu   
                           in praise of Antares
                  gazing far up the lanes of Sagittarius
                           richest stream of our sky—
   a cup to the center of the galaxy!   
                  and let the eyes stray
   right-angling the pitch of the Milky Way:   
                  horse-heads   rings
                  clouds      too distant to be
                  slide free.
                              on the crest of the wave.

Each night
O Earth Mother
   I have wrappt my hand
   over the jut of your cobra-hood
   left my ear
All night long by your mouth.

O   All
Gods   tides   capes   currents   
Flows and spirals of
      pool and powers—

As we hoe the field
   let sweet potato grow.
And as sit us all down when we may   
To consider the Dharma
   bring with a flower and a glimmer.   
Let us all sleep in peace    together.

Bless Masa and me as we marry   
   at new moon         on the crater   
This summer.

—Gary Snyder

Mary Oliver is one of the most popular American poets still working.  So popular that folks who are not in the English departments of struggling liberal arts college not only read her work—they buy her books.  Astonishing!  The environment is one of her recurring themes.

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

—Mary Oliver

But Earth Day really needs some indignation and some action.  For many, Judy Bari became a martyr and a symbol for a militant environmental movement.  To the government and Northern California lumber barons, that made her and the movement she hammered together terrorists.
Bari was a young IWW organizer working with loggers, mostly “independent contractors” on workplace safety and other issues.  She was also an environmentalist who was eager to preserve the old growth forests, including stands of redwoods from clear cut logging.  She wove her way between labor and environmental causes often seen as mutually hostile.  Bari and her associates launched the Redwood Summer using direct action tactics including blocking logging roads, chaining themselves to threatened trees, and other actions.  She was accused of driving large spikes into threatened trees at a level that would cause chainsaws to shatter with potentially lethal threat to the logger.  Bari and her folks always denied that, and it would have been at odds with her philosophy.  Spike found in trees were likely planted there by the companies or their agents.  At any rate, the government began investigating the movement as terrorists.
Bari was nearly killed in an on May 24, 1990, when a motion-triggered pipe bomb wrapped with nails exploded directly under her driver’s seat as she and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland, California. They were on a concert and speaking tour to recruit college students for Redwood Summer at the time.
Bari was maimed and disabled by the bombing, while Cherney received lesser injuries. In the previous two months, both had received numerous death threats from timber industry supporters and had reported them to local police.
Authorities, however, announced that the “only suspects” in the bombing were the two victims supposedly on the way to use the bomb in a terrorist attack of their own when it exploded pre-maturely.  No evidence was ever found to corroborate that wild theory, and eventually neither were prosecutors able to bring them to trial on the charges.  But authorities refused to pursue other leads, lost or hid evidence, and continued to accuse the pair.
More than ten years later a Federal Jury, after Bari’s death from breast cancer in 1997, she and Cherney were awarded $4.4 million from three FBI agents and three Oakland police officers for violating their civil rights and essentially trying to frame the pair.
Cherney, like Bari a singing organizer composed song which is still sung and recited as a poem in radical environmental circles.

Who Bombed Judi Bari?

Now Judi Bari is a Wobbly organizer
A Mother Jones at the Georgia Pacific Mill
She fought for the sawmill workers
Hit by that PCB spill  
T. Marshall Hahn’s calling G-P‘s shots from Atlanta
Don Nelson sold him the union long ago
Now they weren’t gonna have no Wobbly
Running their logging show
And they spewed out their hatred
And they laid out their scam
Jerry Philbrick called for violence
Was no secret what they planned so I ask you now...
Who bombed Judi Bari?
I know you’re out there still
Have you seen her broken body
Or the spirit you can’t kill?
Now Judi Bari is a feminist organizer
Ain’t no man gonna keep that woman down
She defended the abortion clinic
In fascist Ukiah town
Calvary Baptist Church called for its masses
Camo buddies lined up in the pews
You can see all of their faces
In the Ukiah Daily News
And they spewed out their hatred
As Reverend Broyles laid out the scam
Bill Staley called for violence
Was no secret what they planned
So I ask you now
Who bombed Judi Bari?
I know you’re out there still
Have you seen her broken body
Or the spirit you can’t kill?
Now Judi Bari is an Earth First! organizer
The California redwoods are her home
She called for Redwood Summer
Where the owl and the black bear roam
Charlie Hurwitz he runs MAXXAM out of Houston
Harry Merlo runs L-P from Portland town
They’re the men they call King Timber
They know how to cut you down
And Don Nolan spewed their hatred
As Candy Boak laid out the scam
John Campbell called for violence
Was no secret what they planned
So I ask you now
Who bombed Judi Bari?
I know you’re out there still
Have you seen her broken body
Or the spirit you can’t kill?
Now Judi Bari is the mother of two children
A pipe bomb went ripping through her womb
She cries in pain at nighttime
In a Willits cabin room
FBI is back again with Cointelpro
Richard Held is the man they know they trust
With Lieutenant Sims his henchman
It’s a world of boom and bust
But we’ll answer with non-violence
‘Cause seeking justice is our plan
And we’ll avenge our wounded comrade
As we defend the ravaged land
So I ask you now
Who bombed Judi Bari?
I know you’re out there still
Have you seen her broken body
Or the spirit you can’t kill?

—Darryl Cherney

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