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Archive for August 5th, 2022

Epicenter

[with 2 poems from The Ecopoetry Anthology]

On this night Earth shades her moon. In Padua, the Maestro climbs to the roof after supper and trains his marvelous compound eye on the fifth planet. He will continue until dawn diagraming in his notebook the movements of the tiny satellites about their fierce one-eyed God; his are the first earthbound eyes to perceive what he will call the four Medicean Stars. He pays homage to his patron as we do to ours – tonight with a strong pair of binoculars we as well can observe the Galilean Moons of Jupiter.

Galileo’s calculations of the moons’ orbits, his observation of the phases of Venus, the circulation of sunspots across the great orb’s face, all were cogs in the relentless wheel of evidence that the earth and other planets revolve about the sun – Ptolemy refuted, Copernicus triumphant. But Galileo was a devout man. Before the Inquisition compelled him to recant, he argued before the Pontiff that all his observations and equations simply confirmed the perfect creation of a perfect Creator. (Perhaps it was not in the Pope’s hearing that he also declared, “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”) While the rest of Renaissance Europe praised with astonishment his Dialogo sopra I due massimi sistemi del mondo, Galileo spent the final years of his life under house arrest.

In 1822 the College of Cardinals ruled to permit publication of books teaching that the earth revolves around the sun; in 1835 the Vatican removed Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems from its list of banned books. Not until 1992 did Pope John Paul II concede that the earth is not stationary in the heavens. But in 1622 all politics was religion. And in 2022?

Today evolutionary biologists will tell you that dinosaurs are not extinct: they’re hunting worms and singing in your front garden. Neither is the Inquisition extinct but only sporting different feathers. Each time I hear that a book has been banned, a scientific fundamental barred from schools, evidence ignored, warming climate denied, scientific breakthroughs refused in favor of the cult of ignorance, I ask myself: Why are you so afraid of ideas? Why are your ideas of God so small? Now the James Webb Space Telescope reveals with crystal clarity light reaching us from 13.4 billion years ago. God of all the universe, how unimaginably large you are! How wide, how old, how great, how ever new.

Haven’t you and I experienced the beautiful complexity of our natural world? I have also experienced the ineffable wonder, I guess you would call it joy, of living on this planet with my fellow humans and all creatures. I want to believe that there is a deep and abiding presence within the universe that desires us to feel this joy as we together revere creation. I do believe this. And I do believe that one thing is central for us to survive and thrive as a species: to acknowledge all Truth and allow ourselves to be guided by it. I am grateful to be part of a faith community that teaches this:

The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.

and this:

. . . the call [is] to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.

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The Big Picture

I try to look at the big picture.
The sun, ardent tongue
licking us like a mother besotted

with her new cub, will wear itself out.
Everything is transitory.
Think of the meteor

that annihilated the dinosaurs.
And before that, the volcanoes
of the Permian period — all those burnt ferns

and reptiles, sharks and bony fish —
that was extinction on a scale
that makes our losses look like a bad day at the slots.

And perhaps we’re slated to ascend
to some kind of intelligence
that doesn’t need bodies, or clean water, or even air.

But I can’t shake my longing
for the last six hundred
Iberian lynx with their tufted ears,

Brazilian guitarfish, the 4
percent of them still cruising
the seafloor, eyes staring straight up.

And all the newborn marsupials —
red kangaroos, joeys the size of honeybees —
steelhead trout, river dolphins,

so many species of frogs
breathing through their damp
permeable membranes.

Today on the bus, a woman
in a sweater the exact shade of cardinals,
and her cardinal-colored bra strap, exposed

on her pale shoulder, makes me ache
for those bright flashes in the snow.
And polar bears, the cream and amber

of their fur, the long, hollow
hairs through which sun slips,
swallowed into their dark skin. When I get home,

my son has a headache, and though he’s
almost grown, asks me to sing him a song.
We lie together on the lumpy couch

and I warble out the old show tunes, “Night and Day”…
“They Can’t Take That Away from Me”… A cheap
silver chain shimmers across his throat

rising and falling with his pulse. There never was
anything else. Only these excruciatingly
insignificant creatures we love.

Ellen Bass
from The Human Line. © 2007 Ellen Bass. Copper Canyon Press, http://www.coppercanyonpress.org.

❦ ❦ ❦

Both of today’s poems are collected in The Ecopoetry Anthology; Edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, © 2013, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, Texas.

Ellen Bass is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent collection is Indigo (Copper Canyon Press, 2020). She has founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and the Santa Cruz, CA jails, and she currently teaches in the low residency MFA writing program at Pacific University. In 1973 Ellen co-edited (with Florence Howe) the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks! (Doubleday).

Linda Hogan is Writer in Residence for The Chickasaw Nation and Professor Emerita from the University of Colorado. Rounding the Human Corners (Coffee House Press, April 2008) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and her many honors include the 2016 Thoreau Prize from PEN. Linda has worked with “at-risk” teens in various places, including the Chickasaw Children’s Home. She teaches Creative Writing workshops for all ages, and was inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 2007 for her contributions to indigenous literatures.

❦ ❦ ❦

Moving the Woodpile

Never am I careless,
yet when I lift the wood,
before I even see the wasp nest

I see spiders and ants, some preserved in pitch
and when I lift the wood
the bark falls from the log
and there are silk cocoons,
worm-carved lines worked into the
woodflesh,
the beautiful work of insects
before they were white-winged, dusted creatures
who never asked the tree, What am I, who could I be,
never did they say, Oh world I love you
yet I loosen your skin and then I fly into the night.

As I lifted the log,
there they were in the wood, not yet anything,
the paper wasp nest of the barely alive,
only pale fingers searching, without eyes.

It’s been so many years ago now
and still I have the haunting
memory and feel, standing there with the nest,
offering the wasps back their young,
but they could not approach a human holding their nest.

Maybe our sin is not enough
of us get on our knees and ever see
how everything small and nearly gone
is precious, the paper wasp nest,
made by the moment-by-moment creation of care.

Maybe our human sin is for us never to say
all these are great.
And I, the one who took it, in innocence, apart
as if being human I could not help it,
despite myself, generous and thieving
at one and the same time.

I’ve always wished
to hold the truly stolen, broken world together
but my every move is to break
by degrees, acres, even the smallest atom.

Still, from this other body continent
I offered them their young
and they could not come near the untamed woman,
only fly with desperation
and I think of this still
every evening, like a prayer,
that day holding out the nest for them, placing it down,
but never for them to approach,
and how I waited, how I watched.

Linda Hogan
from Rounding the Human Corners, © 2008 Linda Hogan. Coffee House Press, http://www.coffeehousepress.org.

❦ ❦ ❦

[Scriptural references above are from the open canon of Community of Christ:
Doctrine and Covenants 164:4b and 162:2e.]

 

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