We humans are remarkable animals, aware of our own existence and individual mortality as well as a corresponding, abiding loss. In the Garden of Eden’s articulation of this condition, freedom to act and personal knowledge impose a profound separation from others. Our relationships with each other and our social dealings are complex and often troubling, indeed – paralleling, it seems, our connections to other animals and the planet itself. Too often in practice, humans translate the subdue of Genesis 1:28 – “replenish the earth, and subdue it” – in a modern domination-based concept of “vanquish” or “conquer,” rather than in its ancient comprehension as “taming,” “softening,” and “bringing culture” (“enlightenment” as well as “learning”) to the land and all that dwell in it.
The poems in my Bright Sweet Crude collection explore encounters that cross over from a common understanding of animal – “pertaining to the physical rather than the spiritual nature of man; carnal; sensual; animal appetites” – and move instead into meetings that at times even allow non-human creatures to enlighten people. Here, then, nature fits both the heart and essential quality of each sentient living organism. The brute – even the bestial human – ultimately learns table manners to share the feast.
People commonly are affirmed and comforted by the presence of other creatures, as well as vexed, as happens with a range of household invaders. From the sighting of daily turtles to sporadic deer and elk and American bald eagles to nearly microscopic red mites, my poems have celebrated an attentive range. American aborigine perspectives surface, starting with an annual cycle of sojourning for food before moving into mythopoeic rootstock. In this balance, large mammals have a special place – whales and bears, especially. Even animal humor arises in this kinship.
In human/non-human marriage this concept of kinship is most fully expressed. A variation of the story behind “After the Fact,” by the way, takes shape as a voluntary marriage in Gary Snyder’s “This Poem Is for Bear,” while Nancy Lord (Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore) presents another rendering and then comments: “Cultural interpretations of this story point out the significance of its beginning – the slipping [on bear scat] and swearing. The bear took the woman from her people because she insulted him. She showed disrespect for a fellow creature – in this case a particularly powerful one – and for this it was her fate to be parted from her people. … In the end, when so many have been killed, the story again emphasizes the consequences of breaking taboo and the fragility of relationships between people and animals. It’s … fearsome and cautionary.” Sometimes it’s a matter of which taboo or which relationship one wishes to emphasize.
Or, as I once remarked, “Each summer bears sit on blueberry bushes as they pluck meals beside Contention Pond. Days later, the flattened shrubs tell me who’s been visiting with the Quakers.”
Here, then, Bright Sweet Crude celebrates moments when the intimacy resumes, one way or another.
For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.