Sunday, August 2, 2009

Also Today, Carol Willete Bachofner's "Asleep Then, Despite Color"

I cannot help when I read this poem to think about the most popular grass poem ever written, of course I'm speaking of none other than Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself". It's tragic to think that every grass poem from now on will be compared to Whitman's. But I suppose the gate opener always deserves praise or at least a hail. Anyhow, Bachofner does a damn good job with hers. Consider these first few lines:

The elusiveness of grass, though we walk on it

every day, is its motive:

to crush the weed, to sponge water

from the air and sky, to say green

to the desert on the other side

of the whole country, where black

moods and orange flames persist in eradication.

It goes on to comment on humanity's seeming disregard, perhaps even nonchalance for nature. The speaker explains that nature particularly grass, everyday rain or shine, (because those things are expediencies and not inhibitions), continues to fulfill its life's purpose. But why would it continue when we repay it with disrespect? It's humbling to recognize that nature reacts in the same way we would, and why would it not? Humans are as much a part of nature as any other creation, though we'd like to imagine and carry on as if we weren't.

If we sleep, and most of us do, with disregard

for nature outside, we miss the bending in prayer

of these small gods of oxygen. We miss

the slow unfurling heavenly blue morning glory,

its fuchsia twin whispering

in the open mouth of daybreak.

In this regard, the poem is environmentalist in tone. Yet on the other end it seems also to be a critique on humans and our tendency to sleep through the significant things, the beautiful things. When we are awake, we sleep walk oblivious to our world, longing instead for more unnecessary material with which to saturate and drown ourselves in.

The speaker is ultimately trying to convey a concern for the effects of global warming in a new light. So you don't care that your summers are a bit hotter than in the past, or that the erratic effects on the ocean may be bringing another hurricane your way but what about grass? Do you care enough about having the aesthetic possibility of grass? Maybe it's not as self-centered as it sounds. Maybe it's what some people need to know to care. The speaker of the poem finishes with the following:

Impossible, you argue, to see everything

grass does. Sometimes it does it miles away

at the edges or in the cracks of the city,

or under rotted boards of a chicken coop.

It does something, too, at the lip

of the sea, wearing a disguise, or suddenly,

spontaneously, disappearing on both sides of the Atlantic,

all at once. No one knew it would go,

knew why it gave up on us. Under a waterless sky,

it did its grass thing and died. We were asleep then.

Like what you read, then definitely check out Carol Willete Bachofner at

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