Searchlight Sun

the sun has stopped it seems
capsized bottoms up
slithering south in the sky
somewhere there must be
a gargantuan sale on
of cars or mattresses
or a drive-in movie premier
or midsummer festival
the searchlight swiveling
in spherical place
all day and all night
or maybe there’s just another
fight on and the night ringsters
awake outside some old
development rising
to nouveau sea lows
and climbing salt heights
a tsunami of fossil fuels.

God is Dead, Again

On Sunday, January 9th, 1966, three days after the Feast of Epiphany, a story appeared in the New York Times, in the Religion section of the newspaper, in Section H, on page 146, under the title: “‘God is Dead’ Debate Widens.” The Times did not, as the Elton John song “Levon” suggests, declare the death of God:

“He was born a pauper
To a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times
Said ‘God is dead’ and the war’s begun”

Elton John and Bernie Taupin, 1971, from the album “Madman Across the Water.” The B side of the “Levon” single was titled “Goodbye.”

What the Times did say, in the story’s opening paragraph, was:

“The clearest thing about the small but much-publicized ‘God is Dead’ movement in Protestant theology is its catchy, provocative title. After that, all is subtlety, the specialized technical language of the academy, professional abstruseness and lay bafflement.”

The same might be said of Global Warming, which this week the Times did declare is no longer maybe coming: it’s here. Again, the Times reporting. The story derives from the recent United Nations report published via its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The gist of the report is this:

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred….Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”

It was the German philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) who most famously suggested “God is Dead.” From his “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”:

“When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD!”…Woe unto all loving ones who have not an elevation which is above their pity!…Thus spake the devil unto me, once on a time: “Even God hath his hell: it is his love for man.”…And lately, did I hear him say these words: “God is dead: of his pity for man hath God died.”—…So be ye warned against pity: FROM THENCE there yet cometh unto men a heavy cloud! Verily, I understand weather-signs!

Nietzsche, like the Times, was merely reporting, and the following, from his “The Joyful Wisdom,” he attributed to a “madman”:

“The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the 168sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction?—for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife,—who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves?”

Yet Nietzsche remained hopeful in “The Joyful Wisdom”:

“We philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel ourselves irradiated as by a new dawn by the report that the “old God is dead”; our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment and expectation. At last the horizon seems open once more, granting even that it is not bright; our ships can at last put out to sea in face of every danger; every hazard is again permitted to the discerner; the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an ‘open sea’ exist.”

The UN report also ends with a hopeful note, that future climate change could be limited, that if we cut CO2 emissions, we will see:

“discernible differences in trends of global surface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers (high confidence).

Trees

Some poems speak of love
others hate.
If you’re like me
you like poems about trees.

Trees are lovely and cool
because they make shade
which is nice to sit in
with a mint tea in summer.

A tree will grow hot
turn crisp and line
into stone menhir
not even booklice will like.

This poem is not about trees.
Would somebody please
send me a leafy poem?
The shade here is thin, the sun so near.

A Cutting Edge Paradox

Mr. Groen maintained a modest but pleasant yard.
Saturdays in season he cut the grass with a push
mower, pruned roses, fertilized, spread compost.
Martha Groen watered the beds full of crimson
geraniums, purple peonies, tulips, daisies, and
such that fancied her seasonal gardening moods.
But back to back dry nasty winters followed by
suns so hot the weatherman warned of drought,
and the city curtailed yard watering with fines.
Weeds bolted like bad thoughts coming from
nowhere but filling the mind with oil and gas.
Mites appeared, worms, mildews, the antithesis
of a long forgotten paradisaical anthesis.
They still sat out, but they let the yard go.


Survival Manual

I was walking in Mt Tabor Park the other day, on a path rarely taken, steep on the south side, affording views of the college campus, its low buildings in the shade of the giant trees, the wide swath of grass between Gray and the cafe green but empty. I paused to reflect, praying peace, happiness, and lightness of spirit might fall like gentle rain onto my old colleagues and former students, and just before I moved on, I spied a small blue pocket notebook, partially buried in the brush under a bush. I pulled it out and dusted it off.

On the cover was handwritten, in a swirling cursive style, “Survival Manual.” I paged through the little notebook, about the size of a hand, about 40 pages or so, unlined, filled with handwritten notes, instructions, recipes, doodles, lists – places to go, things to do, people to see, books to read, movies liked or disliked, and short poems with simple drawings, every page crammed full of such stuff until, like a Jackson Pollock painting, there seemed not a single space left for another drip or word. There being no place nearby to sit comfortably and study the notebook further, I stuck it into my back pocket and walked on, wondering what catastrophe, big or small, might have resulted in the notebook’s author having lost it.

Home from the walk, I tossed the Survival Manual, not feeling, perhaps naively, mortally threatened at the moment, onto my desk in the dining room, already askew with bad reading and writing habits, books with bookmarks stuck in the middle, notebooks covered with dust still full of the promise of empty pages. “Write in me!” someone had finger-written in the dust of one. Magazines and journals weeks, months, quarters old. Before long, “Survival Manual” was buried beneath more pressing, unfinished projects.

A few weeks drifted by, catastrophes here and there, near and far, sudden, usually unexpected turns throwing people overboard whatever ship they happened to be sailing at the time. Still, I lacked the necessary closeness at hand to bring me to my senses and recognize the plight of our planet includes, indeed, all of us, including me. I mean to say, I’m aware of our current risks, dangers, follies and what ifs, but what really am I proactively doing to come to the aid of our planet? I mean to say, is showering only every third day or so and recycling properly, enough? Then came, locally, yet another heat wave record, and finding that I was confined by the heat outdoors to the house, even in the evening, when the sun had gone down, I decided to direct an electric fan toward my dining room desk and clear the clutter. If I had to be so hot, I would at least be neat about it. The fan, of course, produces heat as an unnoticed but negative side effect, as does the laptop on which I’m now typing these notes, bringing to you, too, dear reader of the Toads, a mere suggestion from the “Survival Manual.”

I uncovered the survival manual, immediately set aside my goal for a clean desk, and sat down in front of the fan with the manual in hand to take a closer look. I decided the notebook to be the work of a genius or madman. Of course, now that we are old and among the awakened ones, we realize the two are often one and the same. The survival manual author, who I will now refer to as SMA, wrote in a kind of shorthand style, skipping superfluous parts of speech, using fragments ignoring subject or predicate, adding icon doodles to illustrate ideas, inventions. SMA apparently possessed an ironic kind of sense of humor, too. A few of the drawings were captioned with hopeless and unexpected explanations: “Planet Senile”; “Moving to the Moon – what to take along”; “Breaststroke for polluted waters”; “How to recycle the non-recyclable.”

I paused at a page titled “Under Extreme [Heat].” Rather than describe it, I’ve attached a pic taken with my cell, to wit: 20180729_113151

It suddenly dawned on me that “Survival Manual” is a book of cartoons.