#GreatBigGreenWeek 18th – 26th September. Day Five. I am looking for your words/artworks/photos/videos on Climate Change. Please join and add to the works of Chris Murray, Michael McKimm, Patrick Corbett, Norman Bissell, Philip Ringrose, Sarah Tremlett, Cynthia Gallaher and I while we explore ecopoetry and geopoetry. What is the difference between them? I would love to feature your #ecopoetry, #geopoetry your #ecoartworks, your #ecophotos your short #ecoarticles, here. Your #ClimateChangepoetry, #ClimateChangeArtworks. I will feature your work in my blog posts during this period.

The Great Big Green Week – Day Five
the great big green week logo

“Seed”

Willow cut to its hidden houses
something secret furls,
unfurls its stem-self –

seed
slopes slews
under crystal
skin
(its)
flesh
blooms
to tone –
coralling a milky alumben
in water’s distress,
floats,

|stays|
alive
winds its silver
thread in brine –
fleshed frond
&
secret,

still –

a
silver thread
pulls-up
willow’s
Ochre
curtain.

Truncated
Cut, yet
I saw it —
willowGrove

willowGrief —

winter/flower/blossoms

lie on wet ground

bereft of their generations,

seed will lie

| seed will lie |

-Chris Murray

WHAT IS GEOPOETRY?

While putting together the programme for Poetry and Geology: A Celebration, a one-day event held at the Geological Society in October 2011, the question of what exactly we were celebrating was the most frequent aesthetic (as well as practical) concern for myself and my co-convenors.  Was the day just about those poets who had an interest in geology? Was it about famous geological poems?  Were we looking for geologists who wrote poetry or poets who wrote about geology (or both)?  What links where to be made between the act of writing poetry and the act of geological research (and vice versa?). Was the day limited to the study of ‘rock poetry’ or could broader avenues be explored such as our relationship with space and the aesthetics of place? In the end, as I hope the online resources reveal, the day was able to encompass all of these areas and more.

Something that caused most concern, however, was the use of the word ‘geopoetry’.  At first I shied away from it. I knew that the most well-known use of the phrase was originated by the Scottish poet Kenneth White and the International Institute of Geopoetics which he founded in 1989. Geopoetics, White writes, ‘is concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world’. This would indeed make a fitting banner for our day, but I felt that overuse of the word may narrow rather than widen our field, that we would be mis-using it, and also that the slightly more shamanistic elements of the geopoetics movement were perhaps not appropriate for an event at the Geological Society.

But I had seen Kenneth White in an incredible Q&A with Drew Clegg at St. Andrews in 2008 and deep down I knew that geopoetics had to be an element of the day (one simple sentence of White’s has since been firmly in my mind: that when writing poetry, you should ‘start with the local knowledge, with whatever is under your feet’). So I was thrilled to have Gordon Peters from the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics attend to provide an enlightening keynote lecture on geopoetics and the work of the centre.

Harry Hammond Hess – pioneering geologist who called his theories of plate tectonics ‘an essay in geopoetry’

It was only after the event, however, that I was informed that the term has at least one earlier origin, and it was in fact a geologist who coined it.  Harry Hess (May 24, 1906 – August 25, 1969) is considered a revolutionary figure in earth sciences and a ‘founding father’ of the unifying theory of plate tectonics. When he first published his theories and findings in the article ‘History of Ocean Basins’ (1962), he called it ‘an essay in geopoetry’. As the Canadian poet Don McKay explains:

[Hess] described his speculations as geopoetry in order to induce his readers (mostly other geologists) to suspend their disbelief long enough for his observations about seafloor spreading, driven by magma rising continuously from the mantle, to catch on. He needed his audience, in the absence of much hard data, to speculate imaginatively, as if reading poetry.
 

McKay goes on to explain, in his important and eloquent lecture  ‘Ediacaran and the Anthropocene: poetry as a read of deep time’, how Hess’s reasons for using the word geopoetry are as important today as they were back in 1962:

 
Now that so much evidence is in, and no one disbelieves in plate tectonics any more (at least no one who does not also disbelieve in evolution), the term might be allowed to lapse, a marriage of convenience whose raison d’être has evaporated. But, as you can see, I don’t think it ought to be. I think that Harry Hess, like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, or any other creative scientist, enters a mental space beyond ordinary analysis, where conjecture and imaginative play are needed and legitimate, and that this is a mental space shared with poets. But even more than this poetic license, I would say, the practice of geopoetry promotes astonishment as part of the acceptable perceptual frame. Geopoetry makes it legitimate for the natural historian or scientist to speculate and gawk, and equally legitimate for the poet to benefit from close observation, and from some of the amazing facts that science turns up. It provides a crossing point, a bridge over the infamous gulf separating scientific from poetic frames of mind, a gulf which has not served us well, nor the planet we inhabit with so little reverence or grace. Geopoetry, I am tempted to say, is the place where materialism and mysticism, those ancient enemies, finally come together, have a conversation in which each hearkens to the other, then go out for a drink.
 

Both Kenneth White and Harry Hess – men working in different fields, with different practical and aesthetic concerns – used the word in different contexts. But their intentions were the same – to create that crossing point, to open up the world; to improve as well as challenge, through imagination and astonishment, our relationship with the earth.

https://writtenintherocks.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/hello-world/

-Michael McKimm (http://michaelmckimm.co.uk/)

Earth Lines: Geopoetry and Geopoetics

Patrick Corbett, Norman Bissell, Philip Ringrose, Sarah Tremlett, Brian Whalley

Earth Lines is a compilation of poetry and essays on the broadest theme of geoscience. It combines geopoetry and geopoetics and an essay on the subtle differences. The historical appearance of geoscience in poetry is reviewed. Over forty poems on themes of stratigraphy, geological process, geologists at work, geoidentity and geopoetics can be found, as can essays recording a geopoetry walk and the poetics of climate change. A geological perspective on Auden’s In Praise of Limestone concludes the volume.

The Earth is heart and centre of this book; what it means to people, how it influences people and how we have influenced it. Deeper appreciation of the planet-people interaction may come from reading these earth lines.

Earth Lines is a delightful outcrop of poetry and prose. This collection looks back to deep time for inspiration, and forward to the environmental challenges we urgently face. Wandering through landscapes, exploring identity, Earth Lines seeks out the many stories told in stone, and how they move us to express ourselves through art and science.

-Dr Elsa Panciroli, scientist and author of ‘Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Earth Lines book launch – 1 October 2021, 6.00pm

The Earth Lines book launch is part of the Scottish Geology Festival. The programme will include:

  • Patrick Corbett on the background to Earth Lines: Geopoetry and Geopoetics
  • Readings from poets: Elizabeth Wong, John Hegley, Alice Major, Alina Hayder, Stuart Graham, Mark Cooper, Neil Hodgson, Sila Pla-Pueyo, Jack Cooper
  • Round Table discussion with Norman Bissell, Yvonne Reddick, John Bolland, Brian Whalley, Rob Francis
  • Sarah Tremlett will introduce Earth Lines Online, with a reading from Ken Cockburn
  • Q&A from audience

Free, booking essential: book here

Audio and video recordings of some of the poems and poets featured in Earth Lines, including some additional poems

-Sarah Acton is a landscape poet, artist and creative facilitator. Sarah works with local Dorset and Devon museums, schools and organisations to develop arts and writing projects for social engagement and community. She works closely with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site (UNESCO) as poet-in-residence, and receives frequent commissions from Stepping into Nature, AONBs, and Alzheimer’s memory cafes. Sarah is currently playwright and project lead for the Heart of Stone project on the Isle of Portland, supported by Arts Council England National Lottery project grant funding. She is also co-lead artist for both the Museum at Home lockdown project for Lyme Regis Museum and Talking Tent for Dorset AONB.

https://vimeo.com/567010331

Earth Shapers

2020, UK

Poet: Sarah Acton
Film-maker: Sarah Acton

-Andrew Abraham From a kid collecting fossils in Lyme Regis, through the realms of academia and a geological career exploring for metals in remote regions of the world, Andy has lived, breathed, and felt Earth’s dynamic processes. Geology and geosciences are his passion, but his observation of fabrics and textures go beyond rock- and ore-forming processes to their beauty and connectivity to those defining our psyche and cultural diversity. His art and writing holistically incorporate his deep interest in life and the natural world around us. He retired from geology to focus on his artwork and fell into poetry as a way to convey his thoughts on geology, global challenges, and the absurdity of life, politics and more. He is known for his humorous geological rewrites of famous Christmas carols and songs, lives in Toronto Canada, and yearns to travel the post-COVID world.His images and some of his writing can be found on www.instagram.com/artisticrocktextures/

“When I briefly told attendees about my years conducting geochronological research, John Lane challenged me to consider writing something on Deep Time.

“Geochronology was an important part of my Ph.D. research. I realized back then that the ages of the rocks I was studying were incomprehensible to many outside of geology, yet I spoke of the errors of each rock’s age in +/- one or two million years. Not one year, not a century or millennia. Sometimes, even I catch myself and find it hard to believe that a tiny crystal can tell us how old parts of our Earth are. The recorded recital was included as part of a Geopoetry Slam at this year’s European Geosciences Union General Assembly.”

Zircon

2020, UK

https://vimeo.com/551412950

David Banks

Vigo Lane

2020, UK

being a song about mine water performed by Poke O’Swedgers

https://pokeoswedgers.bandcamp.com/track/vigo-lane

-John Bolland

John Bolland is a writer, artist and musician. He lives the North East of Scotland. His short fiction and poetry have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. His first full poetry collection – Fallen Stock – was published by Red Squirrel in 2019. He has been a prize winner in the Fish International Short Story Competition and runner-up in the Royal Society for Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Prize.A member of the STEM Poets group and a graduate of Glasgow University’s M.Litt., he has collaborated in residencies ranging from an Aberdeen PR agency to St. Andrew’s Universities Theology department.

Originally trained as a chemist, John has focussed exclusively on his writing and other creative projects since 2014 after a long, parallel career in the oil & gas industry. His work explores the experience of working in the extractive industries and the issues of inter-generational responsibilities that arise from this experience. He is currently finalising a new poetry collection and performance piece – Pibroch – which explores parallels between the Climate Emergency and the Piper Alpha disaster (1988) and has recently completed a novel, Threads, set in Angola, Scotland and the USA which explores themes of extractivism and neo-colonialism.

www.aviewfromthelonggrass.com

Blur Times

2020, UK

Blur Times combines film-poems created as part of my spoken-word project – Pibroch – with a series of geocouplets reflecting on the nature and experience of time.

Pibroch is a poetry collection and spoken word performance which explores parallels between the (current) Climate Emergency and the Piper Alpha disaster which occurred in the North Sea in 1988.

As a former oil & gas worker and activist with Extinction Rebellion, I was struck by the parallels and empathic disconnect between these two narratives. I perceived a mutual failure in compassion as oil and gas interests continued to pursue catastrophic projects whilst some climate activists did not seem to empathise with the experience of workers in these industries who were, in the case of Piper Alpha literally, trapped on a burning platform. We are all, currently, trapped on this burning platform – and, as in 1988, we are continuing to pump hydrocarbons into the flames.

In the course of awareness raising and activism during 2019, however, I was also aware of a parallel ‘fatalistic’ strand of responses to the Climate Emergency: a scientifically correct view that, in the long durée of geological time, this fluctuation in global atmospheric composition and, thereby, temperature was neither unprecedented nor extreme. As an oil & gas colleague once assured me (repeatedly): ‘At the end of the day, we’re all just a thin black line in a cliff.’ In responding to the Geological Society’s call for submissions, I was aware (as a trained physical scientist with a lifelong interest in geology) of these parallel truths: the urgency and vitality of life and the resilience and continuity of biophysical processes.

This seems to me to demand a critical exploration of the experience and significance of time itself – questions of both its granularity – in moments, seasons, lifetimes, generations, kalpas – and its direction. The geocouplets in Blur Times attempt to challenge the vital urgency of the film-poems with an objective relativity. Elements of contemporary quantum gravitational theory suggest that time is not a variable in the fundamental equations which describe being and theoretical physicists, such as Carlo Rovelli, have suggested, tentatively, that it is the sensitivity of ‘life’ to entropy – the driver of ‘times arrow’ – which creates the delusion of time. This physical challenge to both the anthropocentric and the geological narrative prompts, I believe, serious ethical questions about the ‘discounting’ of the value of ‘future’ experience in personal and political decision-making: for example, my life and my great-great grandchild’s life are, in a sense, co-present. Perhaps time, for us, exists because of entropic blurring. This theme, the bedrock of physical reality and the fluidity of experience remains a continuing inspiration in my work.

Publication of Pibroch by Red Squirrel Press is expected in 2021.

Ken Cockburn is a poet, translator, editor and writing tutor based in Edinburgh. After several years working at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, since 2004 he has freelanced, working in schools, colleges, care and community settings, and collaborating with visual artists on book, exhibition and public art projects. He also runs Edinburgh Poetry Tours, guided walks with readings of poems in the city’s Old Town. 2021 sees The Caseroom Press publish his pamphlet, Edinburgh: poems and translations.kencockburn.co.uk  edinburghpoetrytours.co.uk

Close

2020, UK

Poet: Ken Cockburn

Close was written in 1996, when The Scotsman newspaper offices were still in the impressive building which fronts onto North Bridge, and whose lower walls form part of Fleshmarket Close; when buses still ran up and down the High Street (it is now largely pedestrianised); and when my daughter was four years old.

Patrick is a geologist and poet. Born in Surrey he moved to Purbeck (Dorset) at a young age and grew up there. He developed a love of geology and worked as a professional and academic geologist for 35 years before retiring, when he took up poetry and returned to his roots. He is on the Board of the Scottish Poetry Library and is involved with the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics and the School of Poets in Edinburgh.Patrick has degrees in geology, statistics and petroleum engineering from Exeter, University College London, Kingston and Heriot-Watt Universities. He is Professor Emeritus at Heriot-Watt University and has a strong interest in the University’s heritage and alumni (the latter as Vice President of the Watt Club). He is a Fellow of the Geological Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has a strong interest in using poetry to improve the communication of geoscience and science in general (particularly with respect to Energy, Climate Change and the Anthropocene).
www.geopoetrick.co.uk

Bare Bones

2020, UK
Poet: Patrick Corbett
The topography of the Isle of Purbeck is captured in this poetic traverse from the fields and quarries down to the coast.  Inland stone quarries have exploited, over centuries, the folded limestone as the sea erodes it through the endless drive from the westerly storms – storms which cause everyone to take shelter in the pub where their stories and memories will perhaps remain.

-Yvonne Reddick is a poet, researcher and editor. Her latest book is Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet. She is an AHRC Leadership Fellow, researching poets’ responses to debates about the Anthropocene. Her interest in geopoetry springs from hearing tales of life offshore from her father, who was a petroleum engineer. Her recent creative work is based on the tension between her wish to remember his life and work, and her concerns about fossil fuels as a cause of climate change. Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian Review and her critical work in the Times Literary Supplement.

Reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal

2020, UK

Read by Yvonne Reddick

‘I’m interested in finding adventurous women writers from the past whose footsteps I can follow in. Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals give us her perspective on everything from hillwalking to travels through Europe. I admire the vivid way she conjures up place – you feel as though you’re there in 1803, making your way up Arthur’s Seat with her! When I think about the ‘deep time’ of the volcano’s formation, I’m also reminded of the layers and lines of literary history that inspire me and many others.’

-Phil Ringrose has followed his interest in poetry in parallel to his professional career in geoscience, mainly by publishing poetry as a hobby through his online web site. Having lived in India, Scotland and Norway, and drawing on his career as an Earth scientist, including field work in the Sahara and Greenland, his poetry takes a highly global perspective asking questions about humanity, sustainability and our common future. Philip is currently a geoscientist with Equinor in Norway and Adjunct Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Some time back he graduated with a BSc in Geology at the University of Edinburgh and a PhD from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow on the topic of post-glacial tectonics and seismicity.
www.poetpip.org

The Bubble

Poet: Philip Ringrose
Film-maker: Miriam Ringrose

The Bubble is part of the ‘Earth from Outer space’ collection of poems and was inspired by the story of the collapse of Greek civilization in the setting of the rocks of the Acropolis in Athens and the magnificent Parthenon. The bubble analogy draws from the science of thin fluid membranes to capture the fragile yet inspirational nature of our modern human society. The filming was done on the shores of Trondheim Fjord in Norway.

-Brian Rosen

I am a research geologist and marine biologist. I live in Dulwich in South London. For most of my career, I have worked as a research scientist at the Natural History Museum in London, and have contributed to several major long-term exhibitions there. I am now retired, but continue with my research as a Scientific Associate in the Department of Earth Sciences. For my research I have concentrated on the geology and biology of living and fossil corals and reefs with subsidiary interests in biogeography and the history of science, with field work and other travel to numerous locations around the world including many tropical islands in Atlantic and Indopacific. Current projects include contributing to a guide to the geology of the Peak District, and the evolutionary and ecological history of living and fossil scleractinian corals and its implications for climate change. Other interests include architecture, choral singing, football, hill-walking, industrial history, landscape history, languages, natural history, photography, and railways ancient and modern. Favourite British landscapes include North Wales, Pennines and North Devon. My parents inspired my interest in poetry and writing, and the wider world of politics, education, countryside, sport and travel.

Ballads of Middleton Moor

2021, UK

Poet: Brian Rosen
Film-makers: Brian Rosen and George Darrell

-Rachel Tennant is a landscape architect, poet and photographer. Her profession has provided her with an experienced eye for the elements of landscape and design as well as an understanding of our interaction with the world whether natural or man-made world.

Rachel’s writing, art and photography is heavily influenced by the external environment. She aims to distil a physical and emotional response to a location that captures and renders the ‘spirit of a place’. For her it is hard to separate the words and the image from the place and more increasingly her work has combined all these art forms together.

Rachel’s work has been included in the Scottish Writers Centre 10 year anthologyBrushes with War pamphlet; Glasgow Review of Books; the Voluntary Arts Council publication My Time; part of a touring exhibition in the Screen Machine; The Quilter; the Glasgow Anthology Tip Tap Flat, Glasgow Women’s Poets anthology; Prole Magazine; Glasgow University’s Glasgow to Saturn; Evelyn Glennie’s website; and the Gladrag.

Orkney Stories 1-3

2020, UK

Poet: Rachel Tennant

I revisited the Orkney mainland in October 2020 after more than a ten-year absence. I was once again struck by the power and beauty of the landscape which is imbued with an incredible sense of history and time. It is palpable – from the ragged coastal cliffs pounded by a daily onslaught of the sea to soft rounded patchwork fields edged with neat, rounded Orkney stone walls and always the brooding shape of the high hills on Hoys as a backdrop – all washed by such a magical and clear light. Interwoven and intricately layered within the land is the story of its ancient self, its very creation and the waves of people who lived and interacted with the landscape leaving their own patina.

The Orkney Series is a set of 9 video poetry pieces based on my reflections and the impact that island made on me following that visit.
Brough of Birsay is a dramatic and beautiful island off Brough Head on the North West coast of the Mainland continually pummelled by the Atlantic. It has been inhabited since before the Picts and is only reached by a causeway at low tide. It is easy to imagine the sanctuary, for all its meanings and reasons, that the island bought to the waves of different settlers. Its Norse name, Byrgisey, means Fort Island. All that remains active is the lighthouse and the colonies of sea birds. Yet the layers of the lives of its previous inhabitants remain a strong presence which is essentially what this piece is about along with the drama of the island’s location.

Sarah Tremlett MPhil, FRSA, SWIP, Bristol Poetry Institute Partnerships Board Member is a poetry filmmaker, poet, artist, curator, theorist and author of The Poetics of Poetry Film (Intellect Books and The University of Chicago Press). Presenting her work worldwide, she is co-director of Liberated Words Poetry Film Events, and editor of Liberated Words online. Her project Tree is a geopoetic family history, poetry and poetry film journal across different periods and locations.www.sarahtremlett.com  www.liberatedwords.com

Firewash

2020, UK

Poet: Sarah Tremlett
Film-maker: Sarah Tremlett

Firewash as both a poem and poetry film is a poetic apostrophe, centering on an intuitive response to an ancestor who mined at a site where there was manganese, in Cornwall in the 12th century. The poem first evolved whilst staying at the same location during a gale; and is taken from Tree a geopoetic family history and poetry film project, across different periods and locations.

open world poetics 1open world poetics 2 norman bissell

Na H’In Ban

Long hours he would sit in his cell
with the wind howling around him
enclosed by the walls he had built
tapering into the centre
the only light from two slatted holes
beamed into his blank space
his calloused hands told him
how thick those walls were
but he preferred it here
to the company of the other monks.

He had left the old land and the fishing
to get away from the distractions of others
and here on this rocky outpost
of the white martyrdom
he would not be changing his ways now
he still fished and farmed in order to live
and he would pray and sing with the rest of them
but most of his time was spent here in solitude
contemplating life and death
or up there on the ridge
with the gulls wheeling and crying above him
peering over that sheer drop
at the big surf
that came crashing in from the west.

This is what he had come for
just to be here
alone on a rugged isle
to live under that wide open sky
to watch the stars at night
and wonder at their wanderings
to be with all of this
and of all of this
is what he had come for
to this spare isle of the sea.

-Norman Bissell
Slate, Sea And Sky

An island on the rim of the world
in that space between slate, sea and sky
where air and ocean currents
are plays of wild energy
and the light changes everything.

-Norman Bissell (https://www.normanbissell.com/poetry-2/)

The Elephant

If Africa is God’s garden,
then you, elephant,
are keeper of the garden,
with huge breath and vibrato voice,
you carve and detail
landscape’s highs and lows,
while Hong Kong artisans
carve your brothers’ poached tusks
into village scenes,
curving terraces crowded with people
arching silent into colorless heavens.

Keeper, your tusks, smoker’s white
and smooth as bannisters,
dig deep in savannah,
poking and uprooting trees
with an appetite that travels
to the horizon,
giving plain to where
lesser kudu can run,
and cheetah mark their prey.

Over your lifetime,
massive teeth rise six times
and never seem to tire
of chewing bark,
so seven generations of
wildebeest and giraffe
can graze and browse for tender shoots
instead of riffle through dust
to find your bones,
as the rich do through shop tables
to find your trinkets.

But to get them they have to
get you first,
so with those tusks
you tunnel through jungle
like a railroad company
does a stone mountain,
you charge through rain forest
like a bulldozer with a conscience,
leaving openings for forest buffalo
and gorilla to follow.

Your form, like a lighthouse,
adds brilliance
to the darkest of Africa,
letting in sun,
reflecting your ivory,
urging smaller plants
to thrive and open lushness
to those who can’t climb trees,
for without you,
just high branches could
push skyward,
reached only by monkeys, birds,
and the fair weather trade
of man’s scattered ambitions.

The clap of billiard balls
is no longer as deep
and full a sound as before,
but I’ve heard no one’s missed it.
And to tickle the ivories
was a fetish of piano players
when films were black and white.
Still, they’ve found ways to kill you
in greater numbers.

With the grandest of ringside seats
to spectacles of photographs,
books and zoos,
how is it we still
destroy you?

We carve dead idols
that neither see, nor hear,
nor speak, nor love,
nor keep,
for the circus of the self.
##

-Cynthia Gallaher

Ducks

Like “water off a duck’s back,”
farmers shrug natural ponds
and fill them with
more profitable holdings,
black rows and
two seasons of pesticide greenings.

Swamps, those notorious
hiding places of shackled fugitives,
and favored haunts of Cajun UFOs,
can’t seem to exorcize
builders who buy cheap
to clear reeds and cattails,
drain standing water
like a straw to the bottom
of dark cherry soda,
the good boy-scout work
of portfolio developers.

And ducks hover over one suspect watering hole
and to another urban swimming pool,
same as hummingbirds travel flower to flower,
while these journeys offer no nectar,
relief or room.

With the anxious return to ponds
they knew at mating time
a year before,
mallards make a descent
into scenes as crowded as
any city intersection,
hundreds of iridescent profiles
bob in the water,
the shoreline flutters in
wall-to-wall feathery bodies,
and seeing nowhere to land,
canvasbacks cut air
in crazy patterns
like distressed helicopters,
descending, hovering
and lifting up again confused,
from marsh to marsh,
from what was a swamp
to what never will be a swamp again.

And the pintail finds
hardly a place to lay her eggs
but in broad daylight,
where enemies crack shells,
breach generations.

Hunters relentlessly
search skies
once black with their wings,
and ducks relentlessly
search earth
once blue with their homes.
##

-Cynthia Gallaher

Apes

They are not people,
but they are not animals either.”
~ Adriaan Kortlundt, Dutch biologist

Orangutan

Orangutan stubbornly refuses
to come down from his tree,
his arms crossed,
he won’t share exotic fruits
he plucks so easily,
only by force did he crawl
into the tightest corners of the earth,
Borneo, Sumatra,
where pouting and reclusive
mama o. makes her children
find their own trees.

Gorilla

Gorilla leads us to count
on fingers and toes all the ways
he’s closer to us
than to odd cousin orangutan,
how gorilla gave up tree houses,
to stand rooted on his own fuzzy-palm legs,
now plays with frogs, pets baby antelopes,
eats vegetarian,
sheds tears at injustice,
and while little ones continue games
of “tag” or “king of the hill,”
civilization closes in on
his misty jungles,
and in between shadows that shift
with foreigners and fallen trees
we hear gorillas’ heavy and emotional bodies
hitting ground like falling boulders.

Chimpanzee

Chimp points a stick at us,
narrowing in on the single chromosome
that prevents us from
embracing like brothers,
he, more distant
to gorilla and orangutan,
than to us.
Chimp, most likely candidate
for future conversations,
able to share,
or barter and trade
like a businessman,
sharpen and curve sticks into tools
to better dig out termites
for lunch,
study starry skies
like a fifteen-minute Galileo
before disappearing again
in the bush,
where he works out the strategy
of when ground is better,
and tree-bound’s best.

Us

Gorilla and chimp,
like us, too, carry that underside
to kill their own,
but their rapes and murders
are soft cracks of fragile twigs
compared with our loud chain-saw wails
wrecking toothed havoc
on whole forests.
Nearly five billion of us
crowding out the fraction of our cousins left,
old echoes of who we were
or might have been;
Nearly five billion
crawling into all corners of the earth,
claiming “this is mine,”
crossing our arms,
shrugging our shoulders,
stubborn as orangutans.
##

-Cynthia Gallaher

Northern Spotted Owl

The folks in Forks*
can’t figure out why one lousy bird
needs 2000 acres to stretch its wings,
when all they want
is a half-acre homestead,
steady logging work,
one stop light,
and a cup of hot coffee
from the Pay ‘n Serve Cafe
to fire their engines like
a hot chain saw every morning.

Fish and Wildlife
say the “owls vs. jobs” controversy
will be over
in a few years anyway,
won’t be any more trees
to fight over;
but to the youngest loggers,
a few years are an eternity,
enough time to get a car,
charm a good woman,
and gather lots of wooly layers
before shipping out to Alaska
for new riches underground.

Meanwhile in minutes,
500-year Douglas Firs fall and break
the pristine silence of sky
like glass shattering.
and in the time it takes you
to count growth rings
that date back before Columbus,
the spotted owl has flown
from one end of his night turf
to the other, surrounded by
clear-cut stubble,
perhaps a feather or two
falls on top
of his ancestors’ bones,
while white mans’ bones,
still alive in anxious flesh,
shakes inside the White House,
the closet of environmental presidents
who carry chain saws,
and more than one crooked finger
from the cabinet
points to Forks as evidence
that conservation exacts
too high a price on commerce.

And while board feet continue
to sail around the world
like crazy toothpicks,
the spotted owl sleeps on
in a standing dead tree hollow
he calls home,
hoping man makes himself
as scarce as Sasquatch.

*Forks, Washington: the self-proclaimed
“Logging Capital of the World.” Population: 2500.
##

-Cynthia Gallaher

Dolphins Among Tuna

It’s like digging through your handbag,
and tossing out dollars to find pennies,
how they draw purse-seine nets
to fishing boats,
heave-ho breathless dolphins
to sharks by thousands,
or let them slip
through the grinder
along with tuna.

Cetacean magnificence,
along with other highly-evolved mysteries,
don’t generate money
for the fishing industry,
the curved, firm, echolocating bodies
are necessary nuisances,
as not-so-bright tuna
follow beneath to new feeding grounds,
taking more than a team of potential sashimi
to ever find,
while man follows doggedly above,
dolphin leading by the nose
to new payloads of yellowfin.

Reluctant guides of a double hunt,
spotted dolphin can’t shake their shadows
closing in with silvery horror,
with macabre macramé
of transparent motive,
these who slice through man’s
grammar and syntax
as easily as their lithe fins
cut waves,
their social smiles
ever permanent, sincere,
they don’t discriminate
when saving the overboard sailor,
pushing her to the surface.

Caught between the devil
and demand for chunk light,
dolphins are down
for the microfilament count,
drowned by intellect before profit,
and perhaps, if we bite
into the right lettuce-ruffled sandwich,
we might finally wise up,
as some of our
best thinkers on earth
remain
conveniently packed
in spring water.
##

-Cynthia Gallaher (All poems above from her collection: Earth Elegance. The book was published by March Abrazo Press in Chicago.)

Bios and Links

-Chris Murray
Chris Murray is a poet and essayist. Her most recent book Gold Friend was published in 2020 by Turas Press, Dublin. Chris is working on her sixth book and loves the work that goes into making books. Chris founded ‘Poethead’ a site dedicated to platforming work by women poets, their translators, and editors. A member of Fired! Irish Women Poets and the Canon, she archives objects related to the canonical neglect of women poets at RASCAL, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Chris Murray

https://timberjournal.org/archive/seed

Cynthia Gallaher,

a Chicago USA-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices, three chapbooks, including Drenched, and the nonfiction Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet.

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