A conversation with my 5-year old son while looking at oil-mired birds in the Gulf
Those were wings, I try to tell him, feathers for flying.
Tell me what they are now, he demands.
We look at the picture again, together, as if we might discover some filament of this animal reaching through the muck. A strand. A hint of what to do with these things hanging on his back.
They are burdens, I think to myself, but cannot say. How to be hopeful? How to say, Well, my sweet, they are still feathers. Under it all, they are still birds.
Did this happen to all of the birds? he asks, and I don’t know how to answer. It seems like such a complicated question. For his sake, I keep it literal. Not all the birds. Not yet. Here, we are landlocked.
We read the captions and I notice the word mired repeated over and over again. A bird mired in oil. Another bird mired in oil. We look up the word only to learn that the noun form of the word – a mire- means “a soft wet area of low-lying land that sinks underfoot”. The land itself, among the reeds, along the coast. The adjective definition is a metaphor for the thing destroyed.
We agree: it’s not something we can swallow whole. We are mired. We are mire. He’s heard of quagmire, he says, and walks away, still chewing on the word, repeating it over and over again through the dark hallway. The baby screams upstairs, her strong legs kicking the wall. Mama mama mama, she finally screams, and finally I have to look away and go.
the swing and utter cringe effect. he remembers
the photograph, how the animals lived in caves,
how the earliest people even then made bridges.
but he cloaks his most secret discovery. the
sharpest, most defined, most basic memory,
upon which he cancels all other memories. He
insists, in fact, that we fabricated her birthday,
and that perhaps, in a world that has yet to
evolve from the primordial swamp, they are
destined to become amoebas. he captures this
when he feels the music, ripe with drums and
piccolos: how torn he is between the primal and
a Haiti poem
as observers, we stitch together reels of
tape to form memory. she says they
showed a picture of the mass grave,
mounds of dark skin melting together
like swamp water. in aftershocks, new
holes are made in roofs, windows;
crevices too small to enter become
doorways. observing. it’s difficult, we
say, to put our finger on exactly. through
someone else’s lens. we watch them
scramble in, leaving a hole in the street
where they slept. giving water to thirsty
babies, taking water from thirsty babies.
each shifting leaves more holes. cavities.
blemish on the earth, visible from
satellites. now, a week later, they pull
more children from the rubble. one is
alive, bleached white with dust and arms
open like wings to the sky.
For me, each global disaster that’s happened since my son, Eliot, was born in 2004 has carried multiple levels of importance and impact for me. It happened again in 2009 when my daughter, Celeste was born. It’s both the hardest and most important thing ever to have conversations with Eliot about these disasters, harder even than writing poems about them. My son, who will be 6 years old in September, is at an interesting age when everything is translated into his own terms: robots. In a recent discussion with him about the oil spill, we came upon a picture of a robot attempting to fix the leak. From this moment on, Eliot has sworn that he will dedicate his life to creating robots that will clean up oil spills and basically right the wrongs caused by nature and humankind alike. It’s a lofty goal, but he’s definitely capable. I’d like to believe that anything is possible.
Like Eliot, I also want to create something that will “fix” these tragedies, but my skills are far less practical. Instead, I build poems and assemblies of thoughts, words, ideas, images and offer these to the world. May we all make our own individual contributions, consciously and graciously.
Mackenzie Carignan lives hopelessly landlocked in Broomfield, Colorado. She’s been published in dozens of journals, both online and in print. She has several chapbooks, the most recent of which is called “Another February”. She enjoys teaching writing at Metro State College of Denver and spending time with her young children, Eliot and Celeste, both of whom constantly inspire her, for better or worse. She edits the online journal, Listenlight, and is part of the Black Radish Books publishing consortium.