There Is No Way Back
On the radio, an old friend’s voice
chokes with anger and grief.
At the Stony Island intersection
I am stuck, gridlocked in place.
Stalled in traffic uselessly
weeping I listen to the news.
The light turns yellow, red
again; a sudden cry of horns.
Salmon in the tide pool, whales
beside the boat: memories flood me.
The traffic surges forward,
each car spuming its exhaust.
Now the announcer decries
the otters’ oil-soaked coats.
I speed home along the freeway
surrounded by the names of animals.
I have fished the Sound, watching
slow fog fall on the blue shore.
–Someone passes me, too fast.
I brake as I approach the exit.
Anchored over athe crabpots
I have watched the day moon rise.
A red sun sets now over
the Halsted Street bridge.
I want this to be easier. I want
to forget that oil fueled our boat.
I want to hate the vivid city
as a kind of expiation.
But I’ve burned trees as fuel.
I have boiled crabs alive.
My trapper friends kill for luxury.
Gardeners rub their hands with vasoline.
There is no way now to be innocent,
no way for it not to be night and
each of us unprepared to pilot
through these rocky narrows.
And there is no way back. There is no
part of the world that is not part
of the world. There is not one of us
who was not on the bridge that night.
(Published in “Winterburning,” Fireweed Press)
The artist can be seen as part of the commercial world, with success evidenced by money and fame. Alternatively, the artist can be seen as practicing an oracular profession, drawing attention to the relationship between humanity and the other-than-human world. Today, it is important for artists to choose the second role and to express the realities of our complex and interconnected natural world.
Patricia Monaghan teaches literature and environment at DePaul University in Chicago and is Senior Fellow of the Black Earth Institute in Wisconsin, a progressive think-tank devoted to reconnecting social justice, ecology and spirituality through the arts. She is the author of four books of poetry, most recently “Homefront” (Word Tech Editions), about the impact of war on families. Her chapbook, “The Grace of Ancient Land,” will be published this fall from the Voices from the American Land series. She spent more than 30 years in Alaska, moving to Chicago after losing her teaching job in the oil bust of the late 1980’s, just months before the Exxon Valdez disaster occurred. “There is No Way Back” was written in response.