What it’s About

On the days I am being realistic, I understand we are losing the world we thought we would always have.  I hear words like sustainability or read about the fight for “carbon 350” but  know how small the chance is of anything like this really happening.  The world we live in is changing and there seems to be little we can do to keep it.  We are already faced with a situation of damage control, only working to keep certain things as long as possible was before they disappear.

This is part of a journal entry I wrote in the early days of my MFA program at UAA, when I was still trying to come to grips with whether or not art was important.  Now, three years later, I have come to believe that art and poetry may be the very thing that will keep us, that it will be able to open our imaginations to to how we can live with this new wind blowing everywhere.

Then how does one write normally about a world that may be slipping away from us?  Others are writing as usual about all of the other things.  I think about the arctic expeditions in the nineteenth century.  All of that other writing may be like the successful journeys of someone like Perry with all of his journals and charts back in London.  But there is a chance we are now on a lost expedition, like the one of Sir John Franklin, lost along with all of his men while looking to find a Northwest Passage with faulty charts and inaccurate information.  Though they were never found, it is assumed he continued with his journals and correcting maps each day, long after he knew he was doomed, on the chance those might be found still intact and be of value to the ones that came after.  Maybe that’s what is left to write, the journals and maps we think will be somehow useful.  I know this sounds unreal and almost preposterous, but it may be true, that is the nightmare.  It’s like I’m watching this from someplace else, maybe from the dream where something has happened and I am trying to get home but I can’t wake up.

It might seem cliche’ to bring up the ancient Romans at this point but I sometimes think of this poem from the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy that conveys the sense of loss caused by carelessness or inattentiveness and gives us a lesson on how to face a such a loss.

The god forsakes Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

– Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)


3 Responses

  1. Judith Lethin
    Judith Lethin · August 30, 2012 at 11:53:37 · →

    The optimist is the one who says, “Things will get better.” The pessimist is the one who says,” Things are going to hell>” The realist is the one who picks up his pen and writes, or his camera and records what is. You, Michael are indeed a realist, and I’m honored to know you.

  2. Teresa
    Teresa · February 12, 2013 at 17:41:10 · →

    You articulate the grieving well. Thank you.

Leave a Reply