Of thee I sing, oh please—not this way. All season spinning up tangles of words, and look what comes tearing through, bucking and snorting. Tell me, my snarled quarrels, where is this going? Raw material for millions to make more millions for a favored few while more and more are gathering sub -verse sotto voce further evidence of a storm, an atmospheric system of domestic—I almost wrote labor. Maybe that’s because I was lulled to the tune of a tornado. It trilled the way my mother could whistle arias (Tosca, Madame Butterfly, La Traviata), conjuring opera houses out of housework. But not that day in a vernacular clapboard two-over-two, no cellar, no wall without windows. I’m the new- born bundle pinched in her arms as the twister hitches toward us all furrowed, fluted, determined to shake our sticky hands, kiss our sour infants, cyclone-wire our fields with likely scenarios. Such open-throated testimony. As if we listen to ourselves anymore. As if we know how to stop it, the baby who keeps on crying.
I declare a strike. I protest the ravaged body lowered in the coffin to join all the other ravaged bodies in the ground. I protest bodies ravaged in the fields, the mines, the factories, in all the world’s minefields. I protest the ravaged plains, mountains, forests, seas. I protest the ravages of time in my own body, indignities as yet only to my vanity, trivial in light of these other ravagings but still, I must confess, deeply felt. I protest the way I have allowed myself to be woven into the warp and weft of history, bound by its threads as tightly as insect prey in a spider’s web, gagged, immobilized by my own lack of will. I will flail limbs at each next venom strike with all the impact of a flicker on the radar, a slub in the sheeting, a fly in the ointment, a wrench in the gears.
In a fever pitch the new machines fabricate high- paid waste, radiant choirs humming ancient anger, steeped and wide and miles more beneath. I want to quit with a heavenly smile. I am swimming in my own school of wildfire, sponge baptisms of righteous heat. I believe in bacteria, the viscous characters we meet in thickets and byways. Symptomatic faith crops up like black-eyed peas stewing in packed red clay and cultivates such eradicable wiregrass headaches. I’m sunk in oil spills, gas masks, riot acts of worry. How could I put this more metaphorically? What use reconnoitering our dark waters until the wee hours of the last rendering of our puckered-up and shuttered-factory ashes? I’ve bagged my fair share of infectious myth. Flame makes a fast route from A to B. I’ll revive old songs my grandmother sang when she walked that bed of live coals on a dare in her bare feet.
Laura-Gray Street is author of Pigment and Fume (Salmon Poetry) and Shift Work (forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks), and co-editor with Ann Fisher-Wirth of The Ecopoetry Anthology (Trinity University Press). She is associate professor of English and directs the Creative Writing Program at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia. More at www.lauragraystreet.com.