Thursday, August 6, 2020

Poems of Persistence, Solidarity, and Refuge – Patsy Asuncion

We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond.  ― Gwendolyn Brooks  

Split This Rock Virtual Open Mic announcement includes a black background with red Split This Rock logo, text that reads "Virtual Open Mic," and an illustration of a hanging lamp sending out rays of light over a laptop.
As we journey through political, economic, and global health crises, we turn to poetry to share truths that unearth underlying causes, illuminate impacts, and insist on transformative change. For many of us, today’s challenges are not new. The struggle of isolation, economic insecurity, inadequate medical care, deadly institutionalized negligence, governmental decisions that put Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, disabled, sick, and other structurally precarious people at greater risk are not new. Today, many more people are experiencing the vulnerability of these unrelenting issues. We recognize this opportunity for a heightened awareness of how our very survival depends on one another.

Poetry can help keep the flame of resilience, solidarity, and resistance alive in us. It can help us process and move through grief, anger, loneliness. Poetry can be a comfort when the most necessary actions are to rest and recover. It can remind us of what’s at stake, that our lives and legacy are worth the fight. As cultural workers, we know that culture shapes our political and social imagination at a foundational level. As poets, we can use poetry to map what is, what has been, and possibly, the way forward, including the reasons not to return to what does not honor and protect our lives, our communities, and our planet.

From late April to mid-May, Split This Rock asked poets to send the words they chant to get out of bed, to raise their fists, to encourage their kin, to remind us, as this crisis does, that “we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” To read all of these poems, visit Split This Rock’s website.


Lonely George is Dead
By Patsy Asuncion

We should bow deeply before the orchid and the snail
…before the monarch butterfly and the magnolia tree.
The feeling of respect for all species will help us
recognize the noblest nature in ourselves.
– Nhat Hanh, 
About Place Journal, May 2019

From filthy bilges of merchant ships
came furry invaders that gorged
their bellies with raw natives,
overran the islands.

Human gods later brought wolfsnails
to “biocontrol” other island creatures
as if using one life to kill another
were sanctified, but

the wolfsnails disobeyed
the human gods and slayed
scores of smaller natives.

Human gods picked favorites
among the living, like chameleons as pets,
that had huge appetites for little natives.

Loss of forest vegetation by human’s
pigs and goats drove native survivors
to the safety of mountain trees, a banishment
of innocence by entitlement.

The last survivor of his tribe, kept alive
in a lab fourteen years, Lonely George
has died, the last Hawaiian tree snail
of Achatinella apexfulva, one of the
first species discovered on the islands.

Three-fourths of snail species in Hawaii
are now extinct, forever dead. Ten remaining
species are expected to join George this decade,
a dooms day assembly line. Human gods may be unconcerned

by yet another foreigner’s death until they realize
tree snails control fungal abundance and diversity,
vital necessities. But, survival of the gods would require
they look away from their own needs first.

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