[Again and again I marry the earth]
Again and again I marry the earth,
the shore by the grass,
the loon on the tree,
and the heavy deer felled on the highway
who looks at me as I drive past.
I am married to the parrot’s colors
and the tree that is being felled by the chopper
is also my lover.
The wind is heavy with laughter and the cries
and the trouble is that nobody knows
which is which.
Let me marry the sand,
and the clay,
and the red dust of the earth
that my brother, the elephant, raises.
I put on a tuxedo
and walk to earth’s altar with bare feet
where I marry a flower,
white with petals,
yellow with joy.
I marry a tree and the bird
in the tree,
the soil at our feet
attending the quiet ceremony.
Then I marry the soil, red clay, the traveling dunes
and their hundred-year-old sands.
By walking I marry the wind
and the small turtle prints
on the sand
that lead to the seas.
Our tendency as a culture to judge others’ worth by their ability to communicate with us is an example of the arguments we often use for or against ethical treatment. Because animals don’t have (human) language-making capabilities, one argument goes, they are different enough to be excluded from our ethical realm of consideration. It is their silence—their presumed inability to “talk” to us—that seals their fate. I see the ecocentered poem—a poem that is fundamentally concerned with relationships and responsibilities between humans and nature—as a place to counter that tendency.
For now in the Gulf region, some animals are garnering great sympathy and great moral outrage for their plight in the oil-saturated marshes and coastal areas. Recall the already-iconic photograph from the spill where a bird surfaces like a breast-stroke swimmer from dark water, mired in thick, brown, mud-like oil from head to claw, save a peering eye which has the look of prehistoric shock. The bird appears in the photograph as a mud-flesh hybrid creature of mythic proportions, an icon of the countless birds, turtles, fish and other animal species that have been injured or destroyed by the massive oil spill. What do the corpses of these individual animals invoke in the mind’s eye? They make us consider their fate—who they were, what they have become. They make us reconsider the soundness of a progress narrative that promotes detachment, wealth accumulation, and ethical inconsistency. Ecocentered poetry offers a different way to attach to the earth and in doing so presents a different order of things.
Amir Hussain resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he attends the University of Minnesota as a graduate student in the MFA program in creative writing. He is working on a collection of poems about the relationship between family history, culture, and the natural environment. Amir earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and English from the University of Pittsburgh.