Open Letter to America
Up here in the quiet northeastern corner of the country,
as twilight’s red seeps across low-tide mud flats,
I’m shivering, onshore, stamping cold feet, but
my sorrow-hollowed legs wobble, seeming to float above the snow,
and I wonder:
Have I mistaken the sky for ground?
A loony question, I know, but, hell, these days are topsy-turvy.
I’m wondering if the guys clamming, a hundred yards out,
give a damn about shammed-up politics as they yell and laugh,
mutter and spit, dig clams, bloodworms.
And their cigarettes:
The votive glow makes me think of other men I’ve known
in towns like Rock Springs, Minot, and Lindytown;
men who sputter and slug old engines to life, fountain sparks,
lay pipe of heroic dimensions; men scurfed with age,
with bar code mustaches, who skid trees and muster bore drills;
far from the coastal-bicycle-coffee-utopia-hipstervilles;
far from the bricked-out-country-club-campuses
where my students study genomic splicing and Uruguayan literature;
far from Stockton’s Little Manila and from Miami’s gayborhoods;
I’m thinking of the thousand-year pueblos,
of small towns along the Chattahoochee, the Wabash.
And, America, you’re all of that:
a wildassed manifesto of hope
even as you’re thumping with contempt,
frivoled to bits.
I’m thinking of two weeks ago, America,
when I flew to your other bright sea,
to the Bay Area’s technogloboltopian ubering hubbub,
to gather with 25,000 of your greatest earth scientists.
The conference rooms dense with footnoted predictions
about Jupiter’s magnosphere,
with oh-so-serious post-docs and their poster tubes,
and a hundred huddles of introverts conversating
about nutrient cycling in the Pacific, aeronomy,
the hydrogeology of Pleistocene megafloods.
But electrifying that small, sprung-up city of science:
a sense of portent, an immense unbound urgency,
a Now-is-the-Time unwhispered ethos of Stand Up and Fight,
for Borneo forests, for clean energy grants, for climate studies.
Like a thrown deadbolt had thrown open a door,
these thousands of quiet, diligent academics
–their decades spent fumbling to map eternity’s architecture–
were suddenly talking revolution, were pouring aquifers of intelligence
into calamity’s cracked sink,
harnessing choreographers to express melting Chukchi ice,
filmmakers to anime the shifting gulfstream,
leveraging the private despair of labwork
into a chorused cause.
These true children of Galileo and Hutton and Pinchot.
Strong as rocks. Powerful as weather. Unwavering as mountains.
And as I stand here, now,
sunset’s red sinking to stars, the tide galloping back in,
a dark gravity helps me find footing, uneven,
on the bristling, common ground I share with the clammers,
the ecohydrologists, Alabama soccer moms, roughnecks, and cosplayers.
The thousand synagogues, PTAs, labor unions, immigrant families,
garden clubs, woodworker guilds
who are digging in, taking a stand, together.
The age and the moment call.
Header photo of dove in flight by flosca, courtesy Pixabay.