One of the grand things of being a minor poet is that one gets to make friends with those who are just better poets, but interesting and utterly cordial folks. Peter Dragin is one of these folks, a writer with whom I was in the 1996 anthology Small Rain: eight poets in San Diego. with an elegantly Buddhist drift who has the ability to frame an irony or adjudicate contradictory perceptions with an elegance I find marvelous. I have simply wondered time and again just how he can make his associative leaps without leaving a long trail of language in his wake; it's not that he's getting to a point in his poetry, he's arriving at a destination.I've been struck by a particular poem while re-reading sections of the anthology, "There Are No Alternative Fuels", appropriate to the current alarm of global warming and financial meltdown.
THERE ARE NO ALTERNATIVE FUELS
Peter DraginWe are all in all afloatin the empty spaceof our atomic flesh:presence once arrivedgreets presenceever arrivingin the housemade of heat;in the forest'shospitality tothe rising sun's light,in prime orderedstillness and silencewhere birds wing andmake song as they warmdwells the work.Each compression and expression of lips, teeth and tongue,imagine it makes one dawn,imagine brain's measurein vibrant silence and heat;we are allAncient in Days, sotell me what you couldpossibly wantfrom torching the Amazon,the rape and mutilationof every familytribe and nation on earth:what's your pleasure?A car of your own?
Peter, it seems to me, identifies us all as creatures requiring heat to survive just as the planet requires the heat of the sun to thrive and sustain it's life cycles, but confronts what happens when we want more heat than what we need. We become drunk on what it is combustion can power, and we assume a kind of entitlement to having resources used to drive our convenient technology. We are the same, he writes, "We are all in all afloat /in the empty space of our atomic flesh", linked to a seemingly unlimited chain that links us to every living thing and every particle of air, but we have forgotten that our lifestyles, not just our individual actions, have consequences. Our economics and the popular culture it sustains is destroying the fertile ground every species being and living specimen require to live and reproduce. It's a world seared by the accumulated residue of whole cities, suburbs, country sides full of citizens letting their cars idle , their air conditioners run, their televisions blasting, the inert remnants of coal and oil fires falling on our skins, choking our pores, infecting our lungs, darkening the sky, murdering a planet that was once balanced. The Eden that Peter imagines here is mythical, to be sure, and it seems he sets this up to make a point that comes straight ahead, catching you surprised. So, here we are at the end of the world that didn't have to come, and what was this sacrifice all for?
Our right to get and run our "stuff"?