It’s Monday, and I’m scrolling down my iPhone, reading headlines as I work out at the Y. The top stories are the sexy ones. The hot question of the morning: Will the FBI really investigate Brett? That’s the question we women are talking about as we sweat. Is it any surprise that this country is run by a bunch of rich and connected good old boys? a red-haired woman asks. Another nods and says that we all know they drink beer. They like beer. Lots of beer. And do they black out? Yes. Do you? No. I know what would happen if I did, especially if I hung out with good ol’ boys.
We talk. We sweat. We laugh. And then, as so often happens these days, someone begins to describe her own experience of being sexually abused. Afterwards I think of all the woman I have heard tell their stories lately, and of all the poems and stories I have read about sexual abuse. I think of how Nancy Mitchell wrote in her poem, “Why I’m Here,”
We all here want, hope, to be fixed—
but chances of a successful retrofit
to the body depend
most cases are too far
And then I think of other topics in the news these days that worry me. Other cases that I fear are “too far gone—the damage.” Topics that I rarely overhear anyone talk about at the Y or Starbucks or anywhere else. The environment is the top of my list. I feel a real sense of urgency. Time is not on our side. Today’s headline: The Trump Administration Prepares a Major Weakening of Mercury Emission Rules.
Climate change is the primary reason I worry about Kavanaugh (and probably anyone Trump will pick). I fear his anti-regulation stance, the fact that he will further handicap the EPA, stripping its authority to enforce environmental regulations on constitutional grounds.
But this is not something I talk about much. When I do, people stare at me blankly.
Last summer I spoke with a board member for one of the nation’s major conservation groups about people’s lack of concern or awareness of environmental issues. I asked him if his group could think of a way to improve their messaging. He answered that they have been trying. They have done research on the effectiveness of outreach and advertisements. Their conclusion: the ads are completely ineffective. He added that neither floods nor hurricanes nor fires have raised people’s concerns. Doomsday predictions do nothing. People tend to think that Doomsday will happen to others, not themselves.
Then he asked if I thought poets might have any insights into how we might tackle the problem. Do I have a favorite environmental poem? I have been wondering about that ever since. I do love this poem by David Bottoms, which depicts the way we keep living our lives and ignoring the environment as best we can.
The river was off-limits, but occasionally a foul ball would fly
over the press box, over the narrow drive
and down the hill,
and there we were—where what we called the ballpark rock
jutted into the Etowah.
On hot nights the stench would make us gag.
Two miles below the rendering plant
and chicken parts still flooded up in the pool beyond the rock—
clots of dirty feathers, feet,
an occasional head with glazed eyes wide.
We’d hold our noses and try to breathe through our mouths.
Once though, the smell was too much
and we had to give it up.
Listen, it wasn’t what you think. It was only Little League,
and they gave us free ice cream
for retrieving a foul. No, we weren’t overcome
by thoughts of filth, disease,
or fish kills. We were running down a long hill, dodging
trees and undergrowth, trying
to find a ball before it found the river.