PALLINODE by Wendy Babiak


Each of us carries
salt water in our veins: this
portable ocean.

We carry too now
remnants of poisons we’ve spilled:
pulsing pollution.

What happened to us
that we so long looked away?
We want what we want.

Nothing more precious
than clean water to drink, clean
air to breathe. Just this.

Anger clogs my throat.
I’m mired in helplessness like
an oil-soaked seabird.

Child of Florida
rocked by the sea’s cradle, its

To go back home would
destroy me. To see what we’ve
wrought: too much, too much.

the law of cause and effect.
Deep-water karma.

Life’s delicate web:
eons in the making, torn
in a moment’s greed.

Never too late to
choose a new tack, fill our sails
with less bitter wind.

What we’ve done down there:
generations will watch it
help it, heal. The scars.

Sing, then, all of us.
Sing over the ocean’s bones.
This song of sorry.



If you see me smiling of late, it’s largely the maniac smile of a Cassandra whose prophesies are finally coming true. I’ve been scribbling against the status quo for two decades, hoping to move us by however tiny an increment in a direction away from turning the planet into a burning cinder. It’s been simultaneously gratifying and terrifying to watch ecological concerns become front page news. Gratifying because, despite the denialists’ pushback, it made me hopeful that maybe we’d get our collective head out of our rear in time to save ourselves; terrifying because I’ve long had in mind, as an epigraph for my poem “Dreaming the Earth,” a quote by Machiavelli: “Thus it happens in matters of state: for knowing afar off (which it is only given to a prudent [hu]man to do) the evils which are brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow so that every one can recognize them, there is no longer any remedy to be found.” Let’s hope this doesn’t apply to ecological concerns as well as it does to political ones. Which brings up another point: what we’re doing to the environment is not a political matter. It’s a human matter. Wherever you plot yourself on the spectrum of right vs. left (a horribly binary way to frame it, but there it is), whatever ideology you’ve swallowed, whatever religion has you bound, your grandchildren and their progeny are going to suffer from the toxins we’re spewing into the air, water, and soil. Let this be the concern that finally unites us, that transcends our petty rivalries and causes us to recognize the truth: we are one species on this, our only planet, on which we rely to provide us food, water, and shelter, and the only landscape in which we can love. Let us widen our circle of loving to include the air, water, and soil, and everything that moves through them. Let us collapse the culture based on endless, exploitative hierarchies, on getting one over, on proving oneself better than others via conspicuous consumption (gold-leaf on a burger in NYC? really?), and replace it with one based on mutually enhancing relation. And let us widen our definition of person, so that we can build those relationships not just with our fellow humans, but with the rest of the biosphere, of which we are an inextricable and frankly amazing (however currently dysfunctional and damaging) part. Let each of us do whatever we can to fix what we have done as a species so that we are no longer a pestilence, but instead fulfill our role as the cognitive organ of the living organism some call Gaia. Let us love our mother from which we sprang. This is how we sing over the ocean’s bones. This is how we resurrect what we have almost slain in our unseeing race to the grave, by owning our own share of guilt in this crisis and doing what we can to redeem ourselves. This is the point of my “Pallinode,” to recant what we are and have done, to claim and own it.

Having said that, I do not mean to let off the hook those who should be speared and squirming there, those men and women who have abrogated their humanity in favor of wealth at all costs, those who have turned their backs on their responsibilities and taken insane risks with others’ lives, with our very home and our health, for profit, those who would rather spend money on PR than cleanup, those who would bomb civilians in order to secure mineral rights. Who is the biggest customer of the oil industry? How many mph does a tank get? A B-52? Together these forces form what Eisenhower long ago called the military-industrial complex, and it has lived on the back of the planet, and humanity, like a swollen parasite, for too long. By the power of the Word I curse it now, and all who make the disastrous decisions that guide it. May some force of nature rise, whether microbe, arachnid, insect, reptile, or fearsome mammal, and seek out those who cling to their bloody corporate and political thrones. May their bones be picked clean by flesh-eating beetles. May they disappear forever from the earth. So mote it be.


Wendy Babiak is the author of Conspiracy of Leaves (Plain View Press). Born and raised in the Daytona area by the bosom of the Atlantic, she fell in love with her husband on moonlit walks along the Gulf in St. Petersburg, pined for him during their engagement next to the Tongue of the Ocean on Andros Island, Bahamas, pushed their firstborn in a stroller through the streets of New Orleans, spends her birthdays with his parents in Ocean City, MD; she watched her sister marry in a park by Biscayne Bay and now worries about her niece and nephew, living in Tampa. Her poems have been included or are forthcoming in/at Big Bridge, No Tell Motel, The Louisiana Review, The Tampa Review, Free Inquiry, The Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Poems Against War, among others. She can be found discussing her engaged poetics (and all it engages) at

5 thoughts on “PALLINODE by Wendy Babiak

  1. “What happened to us
    that we so long looked away?”

    and then you say,

    “What we’ve done down there:
    generations will watch it
    help it, heal. The scars.

    Sing, then, all of us.
    Sing over the ocean’s bones.
    This song of sorry.

    Thank you for continuing the song, dear poet, Wendy, thank you. Nothing more to say. Sing.

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