Friday, August 17, 2018

Thought Provokers

time in a pelican's wing

lake george's

as elders or royal relatives

by an absence of light

stand formal

like knives & forks
stuck upright
in mud for the night

day will have them up
using themselves

spooning mud
water vegetables
& fish

so what

if they've been having
the flavours of the
lakes they fished in changed

as the nameless
brands of water

were formed and disappeared

on this continent

for 30 or 40 million years

they have followed water
scooping fish frogs crabs to live
to here–

today lake george
     is the clearest of soups–


as the tide's pollutants move
     on the shore-crabs
as the effluent flows
     down the rivers & creeks
as the agricultural chemicals
     wash    off the land
into streams

what time is left
     in the flight of their wings–

unlike humans or sun
    they are not
big drinkers of lakes

they will dribble back the water
    keep the fish

we are joined to them by ignorance
what time is left in anyone's drink

– J.S. Harry (1939-2015)
from A Dandelion For Van Gogh (Sydney, Island Press, 2000)

I could almost as well have included this poem in the 'I Wish I'd Written This' series – except that I would rather wish there was no occasion to write such a poem. Given that there is, she writes it well.

But surely we know all this stuff already? What's so thought-provoking about it?

Well perhaps just that – that we have become blasé about all the small-but-not-so-small environmental disasters, because there are so many and Governments act so slowly and we feel so helpless....

Or perhaps what is thought-provoking is the fact that this poem was published in 2000, and quite possibly written even earlier. Has there been much change since?

In the case of Lake George it might be hard to tell, as it is unusual – what is known as an endorheic lake. According to Wikipedia, it is 'long, largely flat and extremely shallow, with a very small catchment.' It can easily dry up from evaporation and may stay dry a long time, from days to years, before filling again. But regardless of the idiosyncrasies of this particular lake, the point she is making remains. Everyone is now more aware, yet there are still many places where pollution is not addressed.

I could place this poem in 'The Living Dead' too, as J.S. (Jann) Harry is no longer with us. It's a little shocking to me to note we were born in the same year. She was a well-known Australian poet, author of eight books of poetry and recipient of various prizes and awards for her writing, and also worked as an editor and academic. I never met her personally but have admired her poetry for decades.

She was born in South Australia, but spent most of her life in Sydney. She began writing and successfully submitting poems and stories when she was a child. When she began being read and appreciated as an adult poet, her style was innovative and she was credited with paving the way for other poets seeking new ways of expressing an Australian sensibility.

In 2007 Peter Porter, himself a distinguished poet, described her as 'the most arresting poet working in Australia today'. Dorothy Hewett, another wonderful poet, called her 'a skylarker with language – stylish, intense and original.'

In a long and tender obituary, Professor Ivor Indyk calls her 'our first and foremost ecological poet' because of her 'attentiveness to the life of animals'.

I could keep on quoting accolades, but after all the poem's the thing. I love that she's such a visual poet in her highly original yet accurate descriptions!

J. S. Harry was known as an intensely private person, and the few photos I can find of her online are subject to stringent copyright – but if you are curious, I like the photo used by The Sydney Morning Herald in its obituary – an obituary which has some interesting reading in its focus on an alter ego she often used in her poems, a philosphical rabbit!

Material shared in “Thought Provokers’ is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors. The Pelican image is in the Public Domain, licence CC0.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ National Flag(s)

United Nations members' national flags
(Tom Page, photo)

“When you set a good example to the world, you become a flag 
waving on the skies of the entire world!” 

“Raising the flag and singing the anthem are, while somewhat suspicious, not in themselves acts of treason.” 

Flags are bits of colored cloth used first to shrinkwrap people's brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead. - Arundhati Roy

 Midweek Motif ~ National Flag(s)

Flags are beautiful. 
We sing patriotic songs in front of flags. 
I thought I would find many national anthems like that of the USA which glorifies a flag flying in the heat of battle, but my browsing through a List of national anthems brought up very few that even mention the flag. This made me happy. 
Today let's observe flags and see what rises up.
Your Challenge:  Write a new poem about a nation's flag and what it stands for.  Maybe the poem is an Anthem, maybe it is a Pledge of Allegiance.  Maybe it is a hope.  Include a description of the flag in your poem.

Image result for comanche flag
Flags of Native Peoples of the USA

Moon-pale stacks of clavicle a hand
            brushes dust from. I lost a word

that was left to me: sister. The wind
             severs through us—we sit, wait

for songs of nation and loss in neat
            long rows below this leaf-green

flag—its red-stitched circle stains
            us blood-bright blossom, stains

us river-silk—I saw you, sister, standing
            in this brilliance—I saw light sawing

through a broken car window, thistling
            us pink—I saw, sister, your bleeding

head, an unfurling shapla flower
            petaling slow across mute water—
. . . . 

excerpt from Beginning with 1914

Since it always begins
in the unlikeliest place
we start in an obsolete country
on no current map. The camera
glides over flower beds,
for this is a southern climate.
We focus on medals, a horse,
on a white uniform,
for this is June. The young man
waves to the people lining the road,
he lifts a child, he catches
a rose from a wrinkled woman
in a blue kerchief. Then we hear shots
and close in on a casket
draped in the Austrian flag.
Thirty-one days torn off a calendar.
Bombs on Belgrade; then Europe explodes.
We watch the trenches fill with men,
the air with live ammunition.
A close-up of a five-year-old
living on turnips. 
. . . . 
(Read the rest HERE)

O fire, O soul
Give us the spark of God-eternal,
That friend to friend and friend to foe,
One shall we stand before HIM.
And the flame of Jatin,
And the fire of Bhagath,
And the love of the Mahatma in all,
O, lift the flag high,
Lift the flag high,
This is the flag of the Revolution

(Found at DeskGram)

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community.
(Next week Sumana’s Midweek Motif will be ~ 
The World is a Beautiful Place.)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Poems of the Week ~ The Whale Heard Around the World

Many of you have heard of the mother orca, Tahlequah (J35), who carried her dead calf on her head for 17 days and one thousand miles, near Victoria, B.C. The calf was born in a spot where effluent from fish farms pours into the ocean, and she lived only a half hour. We followed Tahlequah's grief-stricken journey with aching hearts. Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research, who has followed her journey closely by boat, surmises that perhaps the calf decomposed, and she could no longer carry her.

We know that animals grieve, but the extent of this whale’s mourning has not been seen before. The mother orca used enormous stores of energy and determination, diving down each time the 400 pound calf fell, to bring her back to the surface. The pod circled around to help her; on day nine they began taking turns carrying the calf, presumably to allow the mother to feed. Researchers tracked her journey.

On Sunday, we learned the calf was returned to the sea, and the mother swims on. But the problems which created this tragic story continue. And the whales' message to us is clear.

This pod of orcas are telling us as plainly as they can that we have destroyed their habitat. Over-fishing, pollution and disease caused by fish farms along wild salmon migratory routes, warming seas and boat traffic all impact the southern pod's survival.

We have just learned that the Fraser River, a key starting point for the salmon migration, is now deemed  to be too warm, which will also impact the salmon spawn.

Lack of salmon results in orca miscarriages; two-thirds of their pregnancies have failed between 2007 and 2014. This calf was the first live birth since 2015. 

“She (Tahlequah) is a symbol of what we are doing wrong,” said Barbara King, the author of “How Animals Grieve”. This is such a large part of our grief, knowing we humans are responsible for the devastation of ecosystems across the planet.

(I can't believe the government is still dragging its heels on legislating fish farms onto land! And is proceeding with a pipeline no one wants.)

There are only 75 orcas in the Salish sea, (near Victoria, B.C., the southern tip of Vancouver Island.) Researchers are now trying to save a four year old orca  named Scarlet (J50), in the same pod. Her ribs are showing, and she is exhibiting lethargic behaviour. She is the size of a two year old, and in the past two weeks has been showing increased signs of distress. 

On Saturday Scarlet was darted with antibiotics, and First Nations are approaching with a boat loaded with live salmon in hopes of feeding her. Feeding a whale in the wild has never been attempted, but  they feel time is running out for this youngster.

J50 and her mother J16

Our hearts breaking, some of us wrote poems about Tahlequah and her calf. When I asked Toni and Susan if I might feature their poems, Susan said she would only if I would include mine. So here we are: poems of heartbreak. Mother Orca demonstrates beyond any doubt that animals feel everything we feel, grieve as deeply as we do.  They likely know they are dying. I cannot imagine a coastline without them.

The grief we are feeling now is for Mother Orca, but also for the world being destroyed before our eyes by big money interests. It is wrong, and it is hard to bear.

“I’m a radical environmentalist; I think the sooner we asphyxiate in our own filth, the better. The world will do better without us. Maybe some fuzzy animals will go with us, but there’ll be plenty of other animals, and they’ll be back. Anthony Bourdain”

The moon is a peach in the sky.
The stars are sparkling grape tomatoes.
The cicadas are singing now.
They’ve emerged from their underground homes.
Watching the garden grow
in the dark of the universe.
I hear the nightly owl fluttering overhead.
With all the beauty around me
I mourn.
The orca’s skull can be seen beneath her blubber
as she carries her dead calf on her emaciated body.
The calf kept sinking as the mother
tried to push her towards the surface of the water.
So much beauty in this earth
and it is rotting beneath our feet.
The earth is an overripe peach
long past its maturity.
One day maybe we will be gone
and all that remains will be the skeletons of cities
poking through the overgrowth
with whales and deer and wolves
living in our place
roaming free and safe.

Sherry: I share your feelings, Toni. Thank you for this poem. "The earth is an overripe peach" is such a powerful line. I read the wildlife in Chernobyl is flourishing with the humans gone. There is hope in that.

Your second poem about Tahlequah shares your deep grief so powerfully. Let's take a look:

The Wake

Tahlequah carries her dead baby gently –
either by the fin or on her nose,
refusing to let go of the calf who died
within a half hour of her birth.
The mother kept using her nose to push the baby to the surface –
She is hungry.
The bones of her skull can be seen through her depleted blubber.
Salmon farms are starving a race of beings out of existence,
Tahlequah carries her dead baby,
day after day.
Her pod is helping her carry her baby
mourning the loss of her baby with her.
They communicate with each other
in a complicated language only they can understand.
They mourn in their unique rituals,
forming circles around the mother –
Like a human wake.
Like mothers holding close the mother
whose baby has died,
crooning and holding the mother close.
We are starving this race,
We are depleting this race,
We are lessening their birth rate.
We are killing a race
more human than we are ourselves
who think only of ourselves,
not caring who we kill
in our killing of this planet.
Tahlequah carries her baby gently.
The mother continues to mourn.

Sherry: Wow, Toni. I feel this despair, this truth: all of the devastation has been for money and greed. What a species we are!

Toni: I wrote this poem because the situation breaks my heart. We did this. Plain and simple. This is our fault.

Sherry: That guilt is at the heart of my grief, for certain. Along with helplessness, because governments are not doing their part. Thank you, Toni, for putting it into words so clearly.

Then, came word of Tahlequah, no longer carrying her calf, swimming with her grieving heart up the coast, her baby forever gone. Any mother who has lost a child knows the depth of her pain. And so came your third poem, the final chapter in this story, while the future of the south coast orcas remains in question.

1000 Miles Later

Seventeen days 1,000 miles later
Tahlequah has dropped her dead calf.
Perhaps she is no longer sad and has
accepted the inevitability of death and life –
Perhaps she was where she wanted to bury
her dead calf – perhaps her heart said
Let go.
I picture the dead calf slowly sinking
to rest upon the bottom on the sand
asleep and at peace at last.
Tahlequah is healthy and leaping in the ocean.
The heart can only take so much grief
before it kills you
or sets you free.
We humans saw and wept with her.
Now perhaps she is telling us to move on,
to leap with joy, to wipe our tears.
I have been carrying my dead mother
for over a year.
The heart can only take so much grief
Before it kills you or sets you free.
I am sitting on my back porch
listening to the birds singing,
taking in the warmth of the sun,
watching the clouds dance overhead.
It is time.
It is time.
It is time.

Swim free, Mother Orca

Sherry: "The heart can only take so much grief." Indeed. We have lived a lifetime of grief during these heartrending days. Thank you for swimming with Tahlequah every mile of her journey, Toni. How many times can the heart break? I am sure my heart is losing count, as the whales die off, as the forests burn, and the wild animals flee before the flames.

My flagging heart responded, when I read Susan's poem, which offers us something to do besides despair: rally our hearts and minds, put on our marching boots. A glimmer of hope, something we can do, midst the grieving.

"See Me" by Lori Christopher
Used with permission, 
©Lori Christopher


           Dis ease hit all poets simultaneously.

Perhaps, we thought, the cure was writing depressing
poetry so no one could think we were untouched.

Though we did little else.  We couldn’t imagine
what else to do beyond words, letters and protests—
that is, not until Orca whales carried their dead.

Carried their dead for days and weeks and maybe years,
carried them so everyone could see, like open
coffins forever, saying, See? We won’t keep this
out of sight.  Look.  Look at my calf.  Look at your crimes.

See my community carry me when I’m tired.
And then it came to us: We could carry objects
more real than metaphor and signs.  We could carry
our dead outside our laden emotions.  We could
sanctuary and caravan, though we’ve lost

very little—not yet—but when the poor are gone
and the powerless fall silent, who will be next? 
This is an old song, one the whales are carrying.
Songs without words.  Living beings objectified.

Let’s lift up death.  Refuse to bury it.  Insist
on sight and smell. Press home. Ease on down the road.
We don't want wizards  We want hearts, minds and courage.

Sherry: "We want hearts, minds and courage." How I love that! The whales are telling us as clearly as they can, without actually carrying placards, that these, indeed, are our crimes. That is the heartbreak, the guilt, the near-despair. Your poem reminded me: we also have hope, and can ACT to insist leaders do the right thing, or we will vote them out.

Susan: The only other time that I know of that the mother of a victim had such a mix of grief and rage that she held the body up for all to see was in the 1950s when, against all precedent, the mother of the butchered Emmett Till displayed his mangled body in an open casket. Her choice -- and media reporting it with pictures -- boosted the civil rights movement.

My poem draws the two together and, I hope, amplifies community support for this action. I know that protests due to death and martyrdom are not unusual. But display of the beloved's dead body raises the power ten-fold. You may remember Marc Anthony carrying Caesar's body into the marketplace and pointing out each knife wound. He drew mob behavior from the fickle crowd. I don't ask for mobs, but empathetic and reasoning crowds who won't hide the only things that climate-change deniers and environment exploiters might take as proof. We must change human behavior on a larger scale; nature is begging us as part of the family of earth.

Sherry: So well said, Susan. What is left of my tattered old heart broke over this whale. My poem was written out of my despair. A friend noted that this only adds to the trauma, and to also write about what we can do, in response. Good point. I did so, at the end of this feature. Truly, the fate of the earth rests in our human hands, hearts, minds, voices- and votes!

We start out whole,
losing pieces of ourselves
along the way
and then reclaiming them.
That is the journey.
I am collecting the last few bits,
before I fly into the light.
I pick them up:
ah, there you are!
and add them to my pack.

When I return,
I will change my shape.
I will be cattails,
standing dry, bent and broken
at the edge of the dried-up pond.
I will be wolf-pup, 
peering fearfully
from my den,
knowing, to survive,
I must elude
Earth’s biggest enemy:
the predatory Two-Leggeds,
and they are

I fear
I will find a planet burning,
humans and animals
on the run.
I will be Tree,
gasping for air,
a sudden irradiation
as the orange tongues
lick greedily at my corpse.

I will be deer,
fleeing the flaming forests.
I will be mother orca, holding 
my dead newborn calf 
above the water
for seventeen days, grieving,
unable to let her go,
saying to we humans:

See! See what you have done!

I will be grief itself,
watching the world I love
burning itself up.

As I am now.
As I am now.

Sherry: Well. That came from my first grief, as I shared Mother Orca's mourning for her lost child. The whales will disappear from the news but not, hopefully, from our consciousness. I think of the moment when she, finally, exhausted, must have had to let her calf go. It is unbearable.

My plan is to keep contacting our local, regional and national officials to clamour  for legislation to assist our planetary survival, and stop the destruction. I see other countries stepping up. Let's bombard our representatives with the changes we - and Mother Earth - need so badly. There are things we can do individually as well. They may seem small, but if billions of people do it, it adds up.

Thank you, Toni and Susan, for your heart-stirring poems about Tahlequah.  They have touched our hearts.

What We Can Do :

Implore your local, provincial / state, and national representatives to:

* move all fish farms onto land, away from salmon migration routes
* regulate and limit fishing to restore the salmon population
* prohibit the dumping of effluent / waste / pollution into the ocean
* legislate stiffer reduction of CO2 emissions
* increase carbon taxes at all levels
* make the largest corporate polluters, rather than taxpayers, pay to clean up their own     messes; make them pay their fair share of taxes
* stop the Site C project
* no pipelines ­- oil dependency is a dead-end street - and a planet-deadening one
* develop clean energy systems, which will create jobs

Other countries are taking  steps very effectively to address climate change. In Beijing, soldiers are planting millions of trees to counter air pollution.  In  Germany, all new cars are mandated to be electric by 2030.

North America, one of the worst polluters, is lagging far behind. 

Individually, we can do a great deal in our home communities: clearing streams, cleaning beaches, planting trees, banning single use plastic, not buying / objecting to over-packaged goods, living mindfully. Reduce, re-use, recycle. Pay to offset carbon emissions when we travel. Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective ways of lessening CO2 emissions. We can join First Nations as they protest pipelines and salmon farms.

We can use our votes to support politicians who support action on climate change, and not vote for the deniers. Good luck to us all.


Ken Balcomb, The Center for Whale Research, and the article in the Seattle Times

A good article and petitions you can sign :  The Native Daily Network

A video of the ailing whale J50 is here.