A Series of Poems: Referendum, Past Cars Speed Fast, and Hermitage
By James Brasfield
From the Author
For a number of summers before moving to Belfast, Maine, in 2018, I commuted from central Pennsylvania to Penobscot’s Morse Cove, a quintessential Maine cove with its nesting ospreys and a family of red foxes that foraged the shore among the stones and shells at low tide.
I was in Galway, Ireland, staying near a cove, when the first Irish referendum on The Treaty of Nice, which included ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, was defeated. The second Irish referendum was passed. Yet, in 2001 George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, brokered by Al Gore and by then ratified by 140 countries. In 2017, I had recently returned from Belfast, Maine when Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from The Paris Agreement on climate change brokered by Barack Obama and ratified (to date) by 187 parties. Both agreements were opposed by U.S. business interests. Whether one lives in Galway, Ireland or Belfast, Maine, or as far east as Tartu, Estonia, the far reach of The Treaty of Nice, each of us faces the ongoing sacrifice of the planet for excess profits.
To borrow from James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom (an “everyman” and lay scientist), we might say the contributive significance of the U.S. withdrawal from the world’s two major climate agreements is “preindicative of the result”: the growing intensity of severe climate conditions affecting the earth and thus all life on earth, as we experience now “actual loss by failure to interpret the total sum of possible losses.”
[Defeated, the 1st Irish Referendum on The Treaty of Nice to expand
the E.U. was opposed by U.S. interests fearful of competition and the
ratification of an international court and the Kyoto Protocol on Climate
Change (2nd Referendum ratified).]
A swift glides, banks between
the road along the suburbs and tree line
along the canal. Sunlight filters through
darkening clouds, through June leaves in wind
over wildflowers between the free flowing
and encroachment of mind to build
a place for aluminum leaves.
Toward the River Corrib, gulls fly east
below lads in their jet, who must defeat Estonia
to reach the World Cup in Seoul,
who won’t keep a meadow wild,
whether here, or Tartu
where I might stand and share with an Estonian
a language originating in a meadow
and reaching out. Wingbeats,
then wings rigid, from high up comes
the unmistakable scream in wind wresting
a nest from a copper beech, and the swift
will make with feathers, dry grass and saliva
a nest again in a crevice of stones. Few
know swift from sparrow in my country.
And my heart nearly breaks
when from our universities
a man steps into a meadow, sees only
a parking lot, its shopping center.
He stands against the agreement
proposed to keep alive
the haunts of birds. Sad too
to think of an Irishman,
his bulldozer at the extent – a canal
to harbor his factory. He moves
against my friend from Estonia,
staring east across the River Emajõgi.
though I know no one there, there
we are two people in a meadow.
Here perched on a telephone wire
lobed from Tartu, a sparrow hawk eyes the grassland.
Like those inheritors from the fourteen tribes
who preserved in a shopping mall a remnant
of the Galway wall, he neither signs
a treaty, nor understands
the value of his meadow.
PAST CARS SPEED FAST
It is long past, now, long past
and dusk there beginning to fall,
a distant car changing lanes
at something on the road.
I veer to the passing lane –
the dark hazard fast becoming
the deer having stepped
from the forest’s edge . . .
All is passing fast –
my car, its vibrations
and sound of wind on the road
closing in on the deer
stretching, twisting her head
to leap out of the way,
and stock-still the body not rising,
and she born in deep woods,
head free from the womb, hooves
together, as if diving, placenta
to existence, her long back legs
immobile till her life landed,
her neck raised from the shadowed floor,
round her the scent of the fresh world,
she now on a swath of four lanes,
fleeing that part of her a corpse already . . .
From insect-spattered windshield
to rearview mirror, the deer a vision:
always the what-has-happened
unfolding from the future, as I speed past.
My footsteps had nearly faded when
the sandfilled conch,
having drifted to the mouth of the river,
was safe in hand,
not to be pulled back, to drift
year in and year out,
to be broken, to
become ribs of a dune –
the shell emptied there of all
but inherited sound,
primal its spiraled origins,
and, in this, a hermitage
again to return to on bare feet
across the floor, for the lost
joy alive where nothing
now would be as it was.
About the Author
James Brasfield’s third collection of poems, Cove, is expected from LSU Press in 2022. His previous collections are Infinite Altars (LSU, 2016) and Ledger of Crossroads (LSU, 2009). Twice a Senior Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, he’s received fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and is a recipient of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.