A New Poem, with Some Comments on Its Origin by Elizabeth Gordon
I’d been invited to participate in a poetry reading in honor of Earth Day 2013 at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church, which my husband and I had recently joined. But what to read?
Always heedful—perhaps too heedful—of others’ expectations, I assumed most people would be anticipating poetry that celebrated the glories of nature: the sunrises and sunsets, the flowers, the seasons, the birdsong, the purple mountains’ majesty—you get the picture. Not that I don’t find “nature” glorious (though even the attempt to define nature, much less enumerate its glories, leads to its own predicaments), but the nature in my poems has seldom been the kind that’s traditionally celebrated. Meaning, I suppose, that it’s neither inspirational nor ephemeral. I like things gritty. Always have.
When others search the skies for rainbows, I’m squatting in the leaf duff, budging half-rotten logs, hoping to meet the shy creatures hiding in that beautiful, dank darkness. Maybe because I felt icky about myself for much of my childhood (okay, for much of my adulthood too), I’m drawn to facets of the planet that most others find icky, or at least not worthy of positive attention. These are my peeps: the silent, coiled and uncoiling snake; the slow and sticky-skinned salamander; the mantis twisting her neck in a measured swivel; the tiny, purposeful ant bearing his impossible load; the spent dairy cow, knees crumpling, being thrashed to keep her walking those final, painful steps toward the kill line.
On the other hand—and, somehow, there must always be an other hand—I’d met an amazing woman at the UU who seemed to me to embody a love and zeal for the natural world that was based not on hokey clichés but on genuine knowledge. Mary Ellen Ryall puts her science and her wisdom and her concern into action. This I admire immensely. Though she is known primarily for her expertise on butterflies, especially the monarch, Mary Ellen understands that the monarch is part of something much, much bigger—the “biotic community” that Aldo Leopold describes in A Sand County Almanac(1948):
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”