Nature Writing is a technique used by insightful individuals that are trying to awaken the sleepless drones that have reprogrammed by political circuits, in order to save what is left around us and hopefully ourselves in the process. Many environmental issues have been weaved into human civilization and yet, most ignore it, but worse is that some don’t even know. As a poet taking this course, I assumed that this topic would selfishly improve my poetic scope into what I haven’t been able to do —which is write poetry. However, in many occasions, I would go through my own sublime moments through the various texts covered, as well as the many discussions in class. Thus, several poems have come out of my observations of nature with these moments in an attempt to address a fundamental issue most humans produce but cannot ignore; toxic waste and its various forms.
While toxic waste is publicly seen as the offspring of the bomb, my first poem aims to change the public perception and hopefully, its definition. It was inspired by the revealing that this year will be the first year humans born will not have been affected by the Hiroshima bomb. It is not the only bomb that has disrupted our environment —such as the atomic tests that have tainted the coasts of the Philippines and the nuclear test sites in Nevada that are still too polluted for life to grow, but it has had a long and undeniable effect on us all. It was through “The Clan of One-Breasted Women” written by Terry Tempest Williams that I found that there was a correlation between the definition of life and the definition in bomb, both manipulated and decided beyond our immediate control.
She, The Bomb
Today, I rejoice knowing my third niece will be born without atomic sin. She will not have to carry the weight of its blast in her genes and carry on with her own explosion of life as she heals the toxic scars on my heart with her purifying presence and beats up my nephews with equality, with joyful fists of love and impunity that do not create pain, only more joy as she hopefully lives in a world where my sins and failed prayers can't be read in a chapbook about being knee deep in Craigslist ads and soup kitchen schedules; where hunger, like tragedy, like laughter, can only be felt in our stomachs, minds, and hearts until all the stale bread is taken after shoveling a path for the ghosts that still linger around humanity in this nuclear wonderland, and instead, reads history books unashamed of truth they usually hide that tell tales about how we saved ourselves, how we swallowed our beard and garbage until we felt grateful again, how we learned that love was the only bomb that was meant to bombard us as it blooms; not death, but life, like her. But she isn’t here yet, just a false alarm. I guess I can wait and be ready for Lily's birth, the boom.
Toxic waste is more than what the general public perceives it to be. Toxic waste is actually defined as the product of human manipulation of resources into products that can be proved to be difficult to salvage while they have a negative impact in its current environment. This means anything from tube televisions, the tons of garbage we produce that is then pushed off and into our oceans, and the cigarettes we smoke are all just toxic waste by definition. However, we as Americans tend to live in the fallacy that what we do will not affect us in the long run because we live in the 'greatest' country in the world. Bill Mckibben points out that the “End of Nature” has already happened when observing the overwhelming greed humans have over nature. Nature, as powerful as it is adaptable, is unable to cope with the demands we put on her. Nature as a post-traumatic stress victim was the inspiration of the second poem I conjured while observing Hoyt Lake in Delaware park.
The Surveyor of Delaware Lake
Swoops as low as I did for food
When a park bench in Central Park
Was my High School home.
She raises back up, empty-beaked
and circles more for tonight's dinner
before it gets dark enough for the Nocturnal shift
to survive and rule the land.
But it doesn't happen.
She stops and practices yoga for patience on top a half-lit lamppost
with a distant stare and feet dipped in algae
in the fisherman pose.
I think if there was any fish in the lake
they would join in and
mirror its predator for change like
Politicians in the Senate.
But it doesn't happen.
The fish are dead
The water is an open cesspool
the algae eat flesh
and her chakras aren't aligned.
Slumlords own the land
the lights are never turned off
food is no longer wild
So the seagull should have ordered take-out.
But that doesn't happen.
all she has
is her wings
Toxic waste can also be found in the hearts of men. Not just on a genetic level or in our surroundings, but in the mindset of white privileged men who chose to aspire for the wealth of power instead of the wealth of knowledge. This goes without saying; most of what has happened, will happen, and will not happen is manipulated by these individuals. Much good can be done, but most choose to sustain or attain more power. That is because the nature of man has long since been defined as the 'survival of the fittest' as Darwin would put it. It is this very thought that has tainted the powers that be in misusing the politics of a country that once fought for freedom. As Jamaica Kincaid points out in “Alien Soil,” politics has never considered nature as a victim of its laws and judgments and has been dying every time the two collide. Because this has been an important and frightful year for politics, the third poem is influenced by Kincaid's recognition in the raping and owning of nature by white men who hoped to better their cause, such as Thomas Jefferson's expansion of the American border. We now have a president who is the embodiment of all Kincaid feared and despised. This censored poem is called “The Orange Megalomaniac.”
Toxic waste from the mouths of politicians seems to do the most harm to Mother Nature. That is why most, if not all, of the writers we have discussed have, in some way or another, voiced their opinion about the carelessness humans have and how it’s been managed by the government thus far. Frank Zappa was wrong in thinking the meek will inherit nothing. A planet barren of life is what we stand to gain from the current direction of the human race. It’s up to us to remind people that the sublime we seek in nature is not in its destruction, but in the experiences it’s capable of providing us. With all that I've learned through this class and further research in the Clean Air Coalition of WNY, social suicide is a form of toxic waste that we can’t afford to make any longer, and poetry is one way to clean it up.
Finch, Robert and John Elder. “Alien Soil.” The Norton Book of Nature Writing: Edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, New York: W.W. Norton, c1990, New York, 2002.
Jamaica Kincaid writes about the effects of disturbing the culture of Natives to a certain environment. The natives in question are the Antiguans, who are affected by colonization. While she talks about the connection between her people and the native plants, this relationship is similar to that of slavery during this time. She also draws connections to American powers that have also influence this relationship. She summarizes the story by stating that “Americans are impatient with memory, which is one of the things order thrives on” (1021).
Finch, Robert and John Elder. “End of Nature.” The Norton Book of Nature Writing: Edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, New York: W.W. Norton, c1990, New York, 2002.
Bill Mckibben focuses on the influences human beings have had on nature while bring attention to how dire the current state of the world is. He states many times that the loss of nature is due to human consumption and inability to stop consuming itself from self- destructing. However, he offers readers a chance to take this warning as something of how much potential humans really do have with its control of nature. Thanks to the narrative style and word choices, the piece doesn't instill a great fear or any solutions to the problem, it merely addresses that there is one.
Finch, Robert and John Elder. “The Clan of One-Breasted Women.” The Norton Book of Nature Writing: Edited by Robert Finch and John Elder, New York: W.W. Norton, c1990, New York, 2002.
Terry Tempest Williams introduces readers into her family history with cancer. Because of being exposure to radioactive sites in Utah and Nevada, her family has been scarred by the government's lack of control and concern for the lives they are affecting. She also makes it a point to show that she is not only witness to such things but also is a part of this and can never go back. From religion to poetry, Williams uses many elements that have long conveyed human emotion in order to connect with readers on a fundamental level. She makes it clear that the politics of man has never cared for the well-being of Mother Nature and its own race.
My blog's focus is to make poetry accessible.
Julio Montalvo Valentin is co-founder of Cringe Worthy Poets Collective and Just Poets of Rochester. He writes Semi-confessional, socially awkward poetry as an attempt to become immortal.