Thursday, March 4, 2010

This land is your land

It is not a dark day-- in fact, there is a little sun here and there. Many of my students are wise and courageous, Iris paints all day, a flock of girls lift into arabesque, Audra teaches her students about the land, Ryan digs in the organic garden, Eli fights to protect the migrant workers, Patti and Doug challenge the government to green our towns, Phyllis fights for the rights of the disabled, Eve speaks out against rape, Wangari and her many women plant millions of trees, Ritch teaches students about Latina writers, Winona fights for the rights of indigenous people, Petra helps found the German Green Party, Danielle covers the stories of the oppressed, Toni restores the voices of the slaves, Alice resurrects  Zora, Carol Elana sings Mozart,  Ellie clears a trail in the mountains, Avi chants why this night of all nights, Mia wears a wedding dress at her communion, and a line of Canadian geese cross a very busy road.

Yet here, in this land is our land, this land is your land, o song of songs, we find an irradiated nation, a toxic river, a contaminated landfill, a dead bird with plastic intestines, a child with leukemia.  We are in a fitful sleep. Millions suffer and die early deaths needlessly; many who live wear the chemo shroud, lose their breasts, and wombs and lungs and bones and other body parts for unnatural reasons. In Nevada, where most nuclear bomb tests take place, much of the land has been stolen from the Shoshone Native Americans and degraded with radiation poisoning.  The rocks are hot. The land is hot.  Maybe our brains are hot and that is why we love our credit cards and shopping malls and white teeth and cell phones so much.  While the above ground nuclear bomb tests stopped in this country in 1963, underground tests continued until very recently, and perhaps continue to this day.  How would we know?  This is a country of political, military, industrial, scientific secrets and lies.  Radiation and other toxic poisons are mostly invisible, and yet they penetrate and destroy and sicken all living things—surely and surely. Clouds of radiation cover this earth. Horses run in Nevada with their eyes burned out. When we think (if we think) about anti-nuke protestors or environmental activists they look like crazy extremists with bad fashion sense. We don't hear them. Books are obsolete. The apple store is the most important destination. We take nothing seriously except our new tits, defined muscles, flat abs, shiny cars, granite counters, ipones, texts, downloads.  Our girls are taught to think about how their jeans fit their asses, how their pretty flat faces and taut bodies define them, and how their vulvas should be symmetrical; and our boys are taught to wax their chests, pump their muscles and kill and destroy digital images. Boys are soldiers, and if they are not soldiers, they live in the margins. If they are 'real' soldiers, they are poisoned with chemicals and radiation from their own weapons, lied to and cast off by our military complex--left to die with no acknowledgment or support from this great nation. Girls are cartoons--already marginally airbrushed. There are no jobs because there is nothing left to do. Our children spend the day and night staring into rectangular gadgets and pressing single letters and numbers. Full words and sentences have vanished.  Logic is dead.  The library is dead. Analysis is dead. Compassion is dead. Respect is dead.  Civic duty is dead. As Jack says in the Ballad of Jack and Rose, pretty soon we gerbils will be reduced to only one thought, once a year-- “what will I get for Christmas?”  Dying children, brain damaged children, drugged children, and mutilated children are accepted as the norm. Cancer is the new cold. Chemo is cough medicine. Autism is an itch. The few who survive genetic and cellular destruction don’t believe they can or should make a difference. Nothing is wrong as long as the credit card bill is paid and we can fly to aruba or buy our next cell phone. We are divided and endlessly dividing, and in that moment of detonation the human race explodes, rises, and destroys all that was and will be. We don’t love anyone, so we can’t lose anyone.  The atom bomb.  The H-bomb.  Oppenheimer.  Hiroshima.  Bomb Tests.  Nuclear Waste.  Yucca Mountain.  Uranium. Chernobyl.  The Cold War.  Three Mile Island.  “Really? Why would you think about that?  It is so depressing.”  We have nothing to say, it has all been said, and our eyes, our horses’ eyes, have been burned from their sockets. We can’t think about that, we’re all too busy driving to the supermarket.

Sometimes when I sit with my daughter and knit, we are peaceful. When I braid her hair, kiss her freckled cheek, I feel an old sweet pull, a shift in my senses.  Oh I have skin.  Oh there is air.  When I turn off my computer and walk outside, an old voice calls.  Oh, the sun comes up, ever merry, every pretty each.  Doug plays his Scott Joplin on the piano and Betsy directs us in the play Everyman, and we ride in a blue bus to Atlanta, Alabama, Mississippi, Miami and North Carolina. We are the freedom riders. We risk our necks to save someone, to swim to Cuba, because we still feel enough to do something, or to want to do something. In that memory, in that awakening, I wear no shoes and hop from rock to rock in the South Toe River singing going down that road feeling bad, wake up, it is a Chelsea morning, good morning little school girl.

What will I do in my last few years on earth? 
Will I leave a valley of lilac trees and peonies? 
A pen? A poem?  A book? A picture?
Will I compose letters as beautifully etched as Rilke's or Jane Austen’s?
Will my toxic body biodegrade nicely or rain radioactive ash on someone else?
Will I stop talking so much to myself and, instead, call on the four winds
to warn all the pretty girls and boys to stop starving
themselves and eat of this delicious life?

We used to sing we shall overcome. 

I know it can happen again. 


Unknown said...

I actually had chills! People "need" to read this... your guts are in it!

Me and the mountains.. I wish it so.

.Ecofeminist and Mothering Ruminations said...

Thank you. I'm trying to move mountains.

pdxair said...

Beautiful writing - chilling images. My husband has a huge scar on his body where they removed a lobe of his lung with the golf ball sized tumor on it. He was 35. He didn't smoke. But he ran. A lot. In Houston and across cancer alley to Lake Charles, LA. We all must wake up.

I am on your same path: