[Note: I assume there will be plenty of rational, measured, thoughtful commentary on and reaction to the Trudeau government’s decision on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, when it finally comes. I’m choosing otherwise—I’m choosing poetry. But a poetry that exists somewhere between essay and poem, manifesto and elegy, screed and lament. I have for many years been writing poems entitled “Dear Common”—as addresses to a singularly plural everyone and no one, imagined as emanating from a similarly singularly plural everyone/no one (who sometimes nevertheless is, myself). I live near the sea. I thought of the whales. I began to write.]
DEAR COMMON: WATER IS LIFE
In a poem I will not have written sound waves bounce off ocean floor, acoustic disturbances of the undersound of tankers, propellers and engine noise. The whales and other marine creatures of this poem swim through, asking how do we keep the quotation marks around the “we” we proffer, temporary and tentative multiplicity we seem to keep needing, because of the blood some keep bleeding and too many ignore?
I am not writing about the US pipeline company which sued me last time I did so I don’t. I’m writing about the government which approves energy projects and momentarily will or won’t. I’m writing about the problem by which so-called democratic governance has been industry-captured, the problem which has seen all governments, more or less, take up the management of economic growth as the sole, or at least primary, function of government—to pre-empt all other areas of governmentality and administered social life. No one will really be surprised if the Government of Canada approves the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. It will still hurt though. The pain will be the clarity—government doesn’t care—not about us, not about Indigenous land claims, not about climate change. Pain is so often a form of clarity. I want to see clearly now.
In a poem I will not have written smoke will be a property of the sub marine world, oil will be everywhere like a second skin of the earth—this era would be a perpetual fire—even under water shells will dissolve and carapace be abandoned to sea flame flashing silver schools confused by blast ship detonations of deep sea seismic seabed testing—forced sonic waves on same frequency as whales and other marine mammals—sound from a single seismic blast (mapping fossil fuels beneath sea floor) can travel tens of thousands of kilometers under water blasts sound every ten seconds background submarine noise raised one hundred times disrupting foraging, avoiding predators, finding mates, navigating, communicating, the starving whales beaching whales tanker traffic and sound wave testing to get glittering plastic to get energy to get growth.
I want to hear what the whales are saying but they are drowned out and not part of the review process or what matters accumulating more matter. We are frightened. We are confused. We are torn. And “politics,” the media, social media feeds this and feeds on this.Amidst growing global environmental degradation, I feel our world spiralling towards some terrible conclusion. Waiting with baited breath for a government pronouncement that sounds more or less like “for your viewing pleasure we present—the apocalypse!” is no process we should engage in anymore. Here in Canada Trudeau cannot have “action on climate change” and any new fossil fuel pipeline. Period. They are mutually exclusive. This is not politics—it’s math. Let’s not wait hopeful or fearful for government decisions anymore. Let’s plan and make our own, k?
In a poem I will not have written every word I’ve ever spoken will return to my mouth from the most recent all the way back to the first word I ever spoke—at night the sea will look the same, its silence will be difficult to discern, is it a whale or a wail? Sound waves of our searching to burn will ricochet on long after all the little bangs we banged, no sexual light will foam a goddess ashore on clam shell skiff though tiny beasts may yet love us—the revolt of the living to its last dying days will be the story carried on sub sub frequencies I twist the dial of the poem I will not have written to tune in the under commons I have no access to but love is a radio too I’ll be up all night tuning.
The clarity of pain. The blood of the earth seemed to be flowing everywhere—train car, pipeline, drone attack. There were cries from stones, mountains and rivers. Cries for climate and the long, slow unfolding tangled living of everything folded together unending. There are now more clearly than ever two cultures I cannot help but see as irreconcilable. Two cultures—one saying some version of stay the course because, economy, vs one saying we have to make radical changes now because, environment and everything else. Limitless growth, vs limits to growth. The only ones really saying “we can have both” are the ones trying to persuade some of category 2 to go along with category 1, because greed is boundless and entirely un-self-aware.
I fear it’s that simple. Has become this stark. We can crash, or crash land. Choose. All our “leaders” are choosing crash, they are doubling down, the racists, misogynists, and billionaires winning election, appointing their billionaire, racist, misogynist buddies to posts of denial, deregulation, and lower taxation, and the mounting signs of rapid and extreme climate change, the unfolding sixth extinction, economic precarity and the precariousness of most economies, unfolding wars over oil and other resources, the growing numbers of the displaced and dispossessed—the “13 impossible crises,” all heralding the crash our “leaders” are either ignoring or inciting.
Maybe we, if we would be part of the other culture, will choose instead to crash land—our only other choice left. It’s too fearful to be chosen by our vote-manipulating “leaders”—but we, what have we left to lose? Begin immediate abandonment of fossil fuel energy system, replacement of this with renewable energy system on smaller local scale, necessitating as well the curbing of consumption and the re-localization of the vast majority of our economic activities and habits, food and otherwise. Re-localize as well our social power taking the important decisions into the hands of those most directly affected by said decisions—autonomy and the commune are life. Allow no new industry or development that does not pass the localized criteria: how does this project benefit those whose lands it immediately impacts? Return to the Indigenous what was once Indigenous, and the rest will find new collaborative and cohabitory possibilities as we build again from the land up, lighter and interdependently. Recall at every instant that this earth was not made for human life alone or especially for those with the biggest budgets but is a common treasury coevolved for all life to enjoy its full ecological extension to natural limits.
In a poem I will not have written I remain hopeful. From North Dakota the cry rises again—WATER IS LIFE! Marine creatures singing one to another between undersea noise of increasing tanker traffic and seismic testing of blast ships desperately looking for scarcer and scarcer fossil fuel deposits hear and call back WATER IS LIFE! From ocean and river, lake and stream-side so many creatures human and otherwise heed and shout WATER IS LIFE! In this poem I will not have to have written any government decision that thinks it knows what is best but is best so blatantly painfully and clearly only for business as usual will be drowned out by the cries of a new world crashing into existence shouting WATER IS LIFE!