Sunday, September 10, 2023

New Poem in Sheila-na-gig


A poem from the manuscript The Next World

was recently published in


Art for Sheila-na-gig by Charles Sherman 


You can find the poem



I began working on the poems in The Next World two years ago, trapped inside my apartment for days, by heat and fire smoke, along with everyone else in Eugene. I started it as an attempt to work through how to live with the collapse of the natural world as we’ve known it (and consequently the collapse of society as we know it).


At first, rage appeared: at the denial and willful ignorance from some parts of the population (especially the media); the rage especially focused on the deliberate obfuscation about climate change on the part of those in power, for economic reasons (see article on oil company propaganda that has influenced US culture and policy for decades; The forgotten oil ads that told us climate change was nothing)

This anger transformed into a question: how contain, process, or live with so much loss, with the knowledge that we've reached a point of no return (even if we stop all harmful emissions tomorrow) - something the human brain and nervous system has not experienced since we dropped out of the trees and started to walk upright?



This was followed by poems about loss, the loss of so much, including remembered seasonal cycles, and the grief process, a journey that is made from one identity to another. When we lose something that was a part of us, there is a felt absence. And many times, the constant question behind the grief process is – who am I now?


Eventually, nearing the end of the manuscript, writing the final poems, there was the acknowledgment that the human brain – my brain, my nervous system – would never be able to contain this loss, this process, alone. Which seems obvious on the surface, but I live in a society (US) that prizes “individualism” as one of its highest values. We are supposed to "go it alone", "pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps", figure it out in isolation.



Part of the propaganda from BP at the beginning of this century played on these individualist values, creating the term "carbon footprint", trying to get us to believe that it was all up to each individual to change their lifestyle, and so keep huge swathes of the population from realizing that what is needed is huge transformational change across energy, food, land, and transport systems.   


Here's the thing: we evolved to share the burden of stress with each other, in community, not to be isolated with our anxiety, physical pain, and sorrow.


The only way we will move through the coming decades is by sharing the burden, the pain – in community. Again, this seems obvious, but it's also obvious that our world is collapsing and we're still not treating it as if we're in a state of emergency (granted, most of us are stuck in a work to pay rent pattern that occupies a lot of our time, and reduces us to chronic exhaustion and desire for distraction - which brings around the idea of why protect and hold onto something that is so damaging to so many?).

All said and done, sharing and engaging with others about climate change can help us through the constant anxiety and depression and into some kind of action. It can increase our distress tolerance, so that we are able to engage in the world in a meaningful way.


Sharing the burden, engaging with others, can help move us through the nihilistic “it’s over, so do what you want” ways of approaching the crisis; can help us move through the immobilizing hopelessness that comes with nervous system collapse and depression; can help us move beyond the toxic “it’ll all work out in the end” head-in-the-sand optimism; can help us leave behind old definitions of “hope”, of “progress”,


and help us to acknowledge what is truly in our control now and what is not; re-framing how we, as a species, can get through the dark days to come, figuring out how to hold and transform the fear, the depression that arises with trauma, and how to help coming generations survive with the burden we are passing on to them.



As I said above, our current economic system results in a pretty bleak life for most. It's survival mode for most, most of the time. The only people who truly benefit are the excessively rich (and they don't seem to be that happy either). 


There is climate chaos, and more on the way, which will cause more economic chaos, so why not help mitigate and lessen the pain and terror and trauma as much as possible, transform the system, instead of rushing headlong into the future without a plan that will work for all of us? Again, it won't happen if we're all isolated, fiddling with our individual "carbon footprint" alone, it has to be system-wide change. 

 Find your group, share the burden, act, create (or, as Camus once put it: create dangerously).


You can find the poem in Sheila-na-gig





Here’s another poem,

previously published in Cholla Needles,

that gave the manuscript its title.


Blue Pool at Tamolitch Falls


Down the cliffside, it’s azure-clear, too clear, color

that may be the origin of water itself; and turquoise-

cold, so cold nothing can live down there.


Fall into the illusion: reflection and depth merge. Old

growth trees, thirty feet down, seem only a few yards

below the surface. 


Can the illusion answer the question posed by our

first desperate breath, memory hidden inside the rise

and fall of the chest?



There’s a silence down there. It pulls at me, as if

I’m in the wake of death wings making their rounds

at twilight beneath the tree canopy.


When the skies begin to boil, the trees flame to ash,

and this pool is sucked into the sky, becomes a circle

of baked mud cracks, that silence will remain,


inside a shell of dried clay, waiting for the promised

huge sand-colored insects, who will carry it with them,

grain by grain, into the next world. 



Other poems from The Next World can be found below:

The Shore

Banyan Review

Tiger Moth Review



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