catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 7 :: 2011.04.08 — 2011.04.21



A friend of ours, before we knew him, wrote an article for his college paper called, “Vasectomy now!” about all of the reasons people should commit (surgically) to not having children.  While some would dismiss his position as youthful philosophical passion, I think he’s still holding the course, both in thought and action.  And I think maybe more people can identify these days, if not with his strident call to (in)action, at least with the question of where our world is headed and whether it’s wise to bring more fragile, needy beings into it.

Whether conservative or liberal or something else altogether, there seems to be more than enough worry to go around these days.  Will the current polarized political climate lead to fascism or socialism?  Which will come first: the collapse of our ecosystem or our moral structure?  When will the takeover by big government, big business or some other big bad be complete?  And whose well-being is the most important anyway: individuals, communities or corporations?  Some people believe God is just waiting to whomp our disobedient heads like a Whack-a-Mole.  And even for those who don’t believe in God, well, as the Sparks warn us via Neko Case, “Never turn your back on Mother Earth.”

In her poem “Small Bodies,” I can hear these questions and worries lurking around the edges of Mary Oliver’s pond-side reflection:

It is almost summer.  In the pond
the pickerel leap,
and the delicate teal have brought forth
their many charming young,
and the turtle is ravenous.
It is hard sometimes, oh Lord,
to be faithful.
I am more boldly made
than the little ducks, paddling and laughing.
But not so bold
as the turtle
with his greasy mouth.
I know you know everything —
I rely on this.
Still, there are so many small bodies in the world
for which I am afraid.

Make no mistake: there is cause for alarm.  Whatever name we give the turtle — racism, abuse, poverty, vapid amusement, consumerism — he exists to devour us all.  And yet there is also cause for hope.  Within Oliver’s natural tableau, we see fish and turtles and birds and humans, all of whom share a drive for beauty, nourishment and procreation.  And at no time, at least in the Midwest, is this drive more evident than in spring.  Yesterday, three squirrels made me and my husband laugh out loud when our diesel engine swung around a curve and startled their frantic little party.  Despite a five-day forecast that is anywhere from 20 to 70 degrees with ample sun, clouds, snow, wind and rain, the tulips are sending up their first leaves up out of the dirt like fingertips to test the atmosphere.

While films like Children of Men rightly warn us that our selfishness may lead sooner rather than later to a sterile, gray world, we can’t underestimate the capacity of life to withstand whatever assault we humans might unleash.  Another poet, Maurice Manning, puts words and images to it in XXI from his Bucolics series.  In the voice of a humble farmer addressing an ambiguous, but respected God/supervisor, Manning writes,

you make it all seem easy Boss
the green plus everything to do
with green like sticks which once upon
a time were green before they fell
upon the ground as sticks but sticks
make nests no doubt about it nests
make birds so Boss I think it’s fair
to say that birds must come from green
like horses Boss or pastures come
from dirt with green together

Green is hope and hope is everywhere.  Green reproduces with embarrassing disregard for the borders between species — not unlike other scandalous spirits you might know. And regardless of our commitment to have no children or twenty, or our efforts to save the world or damn it all to hell, hope’s fecundity hides in the space between bark and sticks, in the darkness of a barren womb, in the stillness of exceptionally ordinary moments.  Hope’s progeny are everywhere.  They fly around the bend and there we are, startled as spring squirrels, wondering what, exactly, we expected.

And so: may your surprise at what comes around the curve be pleasant in this abundant season.

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