Gunk from the Gulf
Gushing with rage
Gaia screams out oily plumes
that bleed into life waters
Feed the car. It’s very important to
keep feeding the car.
When the fishes are gone,
the blackened waters coating all,
a well-fed car can take you away …
assuming you could leave,
which of course, you can’t.
Pray for Mother Earth
and don’t forget …
to feed the car.
I received word yesterday that this reactive poem I hastily wrote back in June re: the Gulf Oil "spill" is being published at Poets for Living Waters in their Open Mic section. (PLW is a site for "poetry action in response to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico." The Featured Poet section on the main page is currently full, but poems are apparently continuing to be published in the Open Mic section linked at the top of the page.)
This was, on my part, a reactive poem--that is, one written entirely in reaction to something that deeply affected me, though I don't live anywhere near the Gulf. Poems written as a "response" to something ... "in the moment", so to speak, are not often one's best work, and its rapid dispersement doesn't excuse what may only be a clumsy attempt to express muted outrage. I was actually surprised anyone would want to publish it.
And then a friend saw it on-line and emailed me, saying it reminded him of something Ilya Ehrenburg said, in 1929, about cars, and how prophetic that seemed at the time. He urged me to go read Ehrenburg's book, The Life of the Automobile, which of course is not available in translation here. But I did find a sample excerpt:
The automobile works honestly. Long before its birth, when it is still just layers of metal and piles of drawings, it diligently murders Malayan coolies and Mexican laborers. It is born in agony! It shreds flesh, blinds eyes, eats lungs, destroys minds. At last, it rolls out of the gates into the world which, before its existence, was known as “bright.” Instantly, it deprives its supposed owner of his old-fashioned peace of mind. Lilac withers, chickens and dreamers dash away in terror. The automobile laconically runs down pedestrians. It gnaws into the side of a barn or else, grinning, it flies down a slope. It can’t be blamed for anything. Its conscience is as clear as Monsieur Citroen’s conscience. It only fulfills its destiny: It is destined to wipe out the world.
"... chickens and dreamers dash away in terror ...it is destined to wipe out the world."
"Now, you have joined Ehrenburg in writing about the horrors of the automobile!" my friend added. [Neither my friend nor I own an automobile.]
Stephen King's novel "Christine" came to mind. I haven't read the book but my mate's seen the film of the same name, based on the novel. It's a horror film about an cocky, arrogant, killer car with a deadly past that maliciously destroys anyone daring to want to own it. "But it's a classic", my mate laughed when I declined to watch it. Monster killer cars aside, should we be blaming the automobile, that little box of metal, glass and rubber that we ride around inside of every day? James Howard Kunstler, in his 1996 book Home from Nowhere says it's not the car's fault; it's ours: "The regime of mass car use is an offshoot of our historical aversion to civility itself."
My friend unknowingly echoed this sentiment. He ended his email lamenting: "We no longer meditate in our journeys to our friends, our lovers--and even the ride to the morgue and the cemetery is one dismal ride in an automobile!"
The poem had two focuses: specifically: what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico; and more generally, our unbreakable addiction to oil.
In the rush to get at the oil to feed our cars, accidents happen. While blame is being passed around, it is we who end up having to stomach the result and drink the oil--our wildlife and fishes first--and because we consume the fish in those oil-infested waters, we also get to ingest the chemical poisons that have been used to push it to the bottom, also known as dispersing. THIS is what causes people to react.
They get angry, they cry out, they shake their fists, they hurl words. They dress them as poems and send them off, to join hundreds of others, in an impassioned response full of anguish, satire, outrage, pulling out the words that first come tumbling out of the mental arsenal. The feelings that engender the poem are heartfelt. I'm not sure, though, despite the fact that it's been accepted for publication, that my hurried effort constitutes merit AS a good-enough poem. I didn't take much time with it, and perhaps that shows.
That said, I still wanted my voice added to the others, the community of writers responding, with their words, to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, to the continual raping of the earth, and to our insatiable greed for the very element that may in the end, as Ehrenburg cautioned,eventually "wipe us out."