This is a short and partial account of my life, and includes poems that go with the relevant stages. Before I started it, I hadn’t been thinking of writing about myself. I meant to write only poems, carefully depersonalized – no ‘I’– condensing object and sensation in small nodes of experience: an attempt to balance creativity and detachment that I thought suited to my age. Instead, I’ve discovered I want to speak in my own voice about what has been important to me, and how I’ve lived out my ideas, at times obsessions.
The first, strongest and most lasting of these is my attachment to Earth, this planet earth we live on. Though I’ve always felt, and still feel, my original, basic nature was to celebrate being alive here, the form this attachment to earth has taken lately is more and more grief at losing it. I miss it in advance, miss what I’ve known of it and what I haven’t known. Because I’m old and most of my time is past, and because the earth itself is sick, shedding vital parts under the onslaught of human carelessness and greed.
I’m aware of my body running down, the slackening of skin and muscles, the dilapidation of organs and passages, the blunting of senses, the failures of memory. I identify with the earth, and I sometimes wonder if I’m exaggerating its depletion because of my own.
I don’t have to look in the mirror,
its tale is spread around me
since my age meshed with earth’s
and we share decrepitude.
I watch my face erode
while stale juices simmer,
we smile through gaps in our teeth
and our thighs are desert.
The sun savages us
through scorch-holes in the sky
and our cancers clot slowly
under acid raindrops.
Our hollows fill with ash,
our eggs are dry and wasted;
innocence has ebbed away
from evening brilliance.
At the same time I’ve never been so intensely aware of earth’s beauty. Small details of rocks or insects, and wide mountain or seascapes, can take me over and resonate with a force that transforms them into pieces of myth, or goes beyond that to identification with the elements of creation. Or loveliness can be just that, lovely. And when the moment passes and time starts grinding again, the sense of loss also returns, also piercing. That fleetingness is an old, old perception of human beings.
So my relationship to Earth, which is what I am going to write about, is both ancient and, because of the circumstances of our age, newly fierce and barbed.
An astronaut in orbit
sees no singular growing things.
A body levitating
above the curve of earth
sees the mother of dreams -
forests are her hair; they stand
holding up multitudinous forks
to their father sun
and smaller woods and pockets
sprout on her mound of love
in her armpits
and on her dark woman’s lip.