Thursday, November 3, 2016

Calculating costs of pollution ... and other news

     Recently I was browsing through an oldish collection, The Best American Poetry 1999 (edited by Robert Bly) where I found and liked this poem by Marcia Southwick -- a poem that drew me in with its anti-pollution attitudes and its enumeration of some of the costs of pollution.
A Star Is Born in the Eagle Nebula     by Marcia Southwick
                           To Larry Levis, 1946–1996
They’ve finally admitted that trying to save oil-soaked
seabirds doesn’t work. You can wash them, rinse them
with a high-pressure nozzle, feed them activated charcoal
to absorb toxic chemicals, & test them for anemia, but the oil
still disrupts the microscopic alignment of feathers that creates
a kind of wet suit around the body. (Besides, it costs $6oo to wash
the oil slick off a penguin & $32,000 to clean an Alaskan seabird.)
We now know that the caramel coloring in whiskey causes nightmares,
& an ingredient in beer produces hemorrhoids. Glycerol
in vodka causes anal seepage, & when girls enter puberty,
the growth of their left ventricles slows down for about a year.
Box-office receipts plummeted this week. Retail sales are sluggish.
The price of wheat rose. Soybeans sank. The Dow is up thirty points.
A man named Alan Gerry has bought Woodstock & plans
to build a theme park, a sort of combo Williamsburg-Disneyland
for graying hippies. The weather report predicts a batch of showers
preceding a cold front down on the Middle Atlantic Coast—
you aren’t missing much. Day after day at the Ford research labs
in Dearborn, Michigan, an engineer in charge of hood latches
labors, measuring the weight of a hood, calculating the resistance
of the latch, coming up with the perfect closure, the perfect snapping
sound, while the shadow of Jupiter’s moon, Jo, races across cloud tops
at 10.5 miles a second, and a star is born in the Eagle Nebula.
Molecular hydrogen and dust condenses into lumps that contract
and ignite under their own gravity. In today’s paper four girls
in a photo appear to be tied, as if by invisible threads, to five
soap bubbles floating along the street against the black wall
of the Park Avenue underpass. Nothing earthshattering. The girls
are simply there. They’ve blown the bubbles & are following them
up the street. That’s the plot. A life. Any life. I turn the page
and there’s Charlie Brown. He’s saying, “Sometimes I lie awake
at night & ask, Does anyone remember me? Then a voice
comes to me out of the dark—‘Sure, Frank, we remember you.’ ”

This poem first appeared in the Autumn, 1998 issue of Gettysburg ReviewMarcia Southwick lives in Santa Fe; readers may learn more via a visit to her Facebook page. Poet Robert Bly is also a translator -- with translations of mathy poems found here and here.

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