Sunday 30 January 2022

Three Eco Reflection Poems by Julian O. Long




Loss of Birdsong

 

Pied and

multiplied as polyphony

do butcherbirds in twos and threes

choir the forest into being?

Does mourning of turtledoves

croon the world open outside my bedroom

window, bathe my body in the cool morning

air of a Tuesday, say, when retired

I wake as I choose, attend as I choose?

And are such birdsongs free as birds?

Free and brief upon the wind as aspen

leaves that clap their hands in late

afternoon light of a summer’s day?

 

So that even when winds turn north

winter cardinals practice all

the livelong; northern mockingbirds toss

ungendered notes into snow cloud stopping

January air?

 

But now we hear that songbirds are dying in

alarming numbers and that many of those

surviving sing no more. Messiaen’s Quartet . . .

imagines birdsong sounding after the time of humans

but Messiaen couldn’t reckon with habitat loss

and now a mysterious illness.

 

It’s loss of the will to sing that most disturbs—

 

out of something like Yeats’s spiritus mundi

loss of birdsong tells, and we, part animal but lacking

the gift to read languages that choir forests, streams,

mountains, into being remain

oblivious to the telling.


 

No Kid is Safe

 

Just now I am remembering

how it felt to be fourteen and think

I had four years to grow until I

could graduate from high school.

It seemed forever, those four years

and I don't remember trying to see

beyond them into any future I might

occupy with my parents or my friends’

parents or uncles, aunts, grandparents

teachers, our family doctor, the mayor.

I think at fourteen I simply took these things

these people and the folk around them, world

for granted like the rising sun and the hard ground

I spaded in the spring when it was time to replant

bulbs. One year I dug up a hibernating horned frog

flat and leathery in my hand; good thing one of the

tines of my spading fork hadn’t speared it, poor thing

I thought, and pitched it to one side, whereupon it took

breath, blew itself into escape mode, and scurried

off. Used to be a lesson in that; ‘nature is never

spent,’ as some poet claimed; but in the world

around me now at eighty something, no kid is empty

of care as I was. Horned frogs are endangered

horny toads, as we called them, no longer a staple

of the lives of West Texas boys like me, their habitats

gone to fire ants, urban sprawl, and agriculture.

One adult summer years ago, fire ants built

a nest in my gravel driveway; I watched it

mushroom almost overnight until I grew afraid

for my children’s legs.

The chloral hydrate

I tried first proved useless and then, worried

that my children might get into it when my

back was turned, I finally poured gasoline

into the nest and sealed the ants inside with a

garbage can lid. That should gas them, I thought

shying away from the implication, and it did the

trick for a while, but they came back.

 

 

Lesson there too,

like the lampreys invading northern waterways.

No fish is safe now, like the horny toads

 

—and no kid either. 


 

Doe In the Headlights

litany after Leath Tonino’s essay, “The Doe’s Song”

 

Here’s the deal; an automobile

speeding down a night road hits a doe.

The driver swerves to a stop and tries

to help, but the panicked animal struggles

away and scrambles into the woods

on three legs, its fourth now dangling

useless. The driver watches helpless as

the painful struggle passes beyond

the space made bright by her headlights—

resumes her journey, frightened, chastened

perhaps, perhaps not. As the days

go by afterwards, she will comfort

her conscience with the thought that the doe

was only an animal, after all.

 

Pray for her and pray for the doe.

Pray that shock will have taken the doe

before gangrene, delirium or worse, coyote’s

tooth as she thrashes about in un-nameable

pain, knowing now no quiet

place to lick her wounds. Does she have

a name? Will her comrades know her

as something other than roadkill? ‘What of it?’

say some. ‘Humans have killed animals

since before we measured time.’ But this

isn’t hunting; bracket hunting and pray

for the doe. Pray for her because she is

a mountaintop gone to strip mines

a river polluted, filled with black carp

and lampreys, an aquifer filled with methane.

 

You get the point. Bracket hunting.

Pray for the doe and the many thousands

like her killed each year on the roads.

They are plentiful now, suburban enclaves

sometimes stage hunts for them and give

the meat to food banks to distribute.

Pray for the foodbanks and their clients.

Pray because they are there. Pray

for the chain of causes required to sustain

their presence but not the doe’s innocent

life—that being unsustainable

in the present human dispensation

her destiny to be burnt or butchered

and fed to carnivores in a preserve.

Pray for the carnivores in their preserve

because they are there, because the preserve

is required by the present human

dispensation.

 

Finally, pray for an end to pandemic

as ventilators preserve the lives

of those who think it a hoax, or not.

Pray for them—let there be time

of lamentation, fulsome and

great-hearted for those who went naked and un-

vaccinated to their deaths, especially for all

children, immunocompromised, and others

whose collateral deaths like that of the doe

were required by the present human

dispensation.


Julian O. Long’s poems and essays have appeared in The Sewanee Review, Pembroke Magazine, New Texas, New Mexico Magazine, and Horizon among others. His chapbook, High Wire Man, is number twenty-two in the Trilobite Poetry series published by the University of North Texas Libraries. A collection of his poems, Reading Evening Prayer in an Empty Church, appeared from Backroom Window Press in 2018. Online Publications have appeared or are forthcoming at The Piker Press, Better Than Starbucks, The Raw Art Review, Litbreak Magazine, and The New Verse News, and CulturMag. A new collection, If Stone Could Weep: An Epitaph for the Pandemic, is forthcoming in 2022. Long has taught school at the University of North Texas, North Carolina State University, and Saint Louis University as well as McMurry University, Fayetteville (NC) Technical Community College, and Central Carolina Community College. He is now retired and lives in Saint Louis, Missouri.



 

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