dirt/glass

Included: Coke bottle, poem, and essay. Part of “Mending,” curated by Billy Franklin for ArtReach St. Croix. Written and created June 2020.

As soon as I heard about this project, a multitude of ideas began swirling around inside me. Within twenty-five days, my personal life has flipped upside down, akin to what I’ve been calling a wildfire of renewal. This week, I am finishing up my MFA in Poetry at Randolph College while sitting in my Saint Paul apartment. I am tearing up as I virtually watch my cohort present their manifestos, wishing I could hug them, go out for pizza right after. At the same time, I am defending a thesis entitled saltmouth which explores capitalism and my childhood in the American South through the lens of eco-poetics. One of these poems is entitled “smile!” and is in the shape of a glass Coke bottle–

During this wildfire of renewal, I have tried to maintain a garden in my apartment building. Within a turmoil of personal events, I went down to the narrow space against the brick wall that rides along the Eastern side of my building. Where last year there were bleeding hearts and secret lilies among hosta, bunnies and butterflies nipping at greens, I had to witness this:

My onion bulbs were trampled, the large and vivacious hosta dusted from drywall. Though I know I took a chance trying to grow edible greens and maintain a wildlife of perennial pollinating weeds in a shared space, I couldn’t help but think of what Grace Wells says in her essay, “Culture and Nature: The Root of Ecopoetics,” as I stared at this complete disdain for the life that was trying to grow among this urban landscape: 

Western culture is more comfortable with status, security, and power; with anything that can distance us from the unpredictability, change, threat, and decay that nature represents. Western culture does not like us to see its own powerlessness and perishability. And it is not comfortable about looking out beyond the earth into a universe of two trillion galaxies, and seeing our insignificance. We have been taught to believe that the qualities of powerlessness, vulnerability and insignificance that nature shows us, are both shameful to us as societies and individuals. 

The powerlessness of a weed does not get lost in this unfortunate parallel, as colonialism dons what communities have called medicinal for lifetimes. When thinking about mending, I cannot separate my own personal grief with the grief of my surroundings, the ecological whole, and how I participate in it. Decolonizing the imagination is a journey. I decided to put my body into this process. I took a Coke bottle I’ve saved down to this dismantled garden and filled it up with all its possibilities. I let my hands feel the hard, dry dirt that was meant to be fertile and soaked, tended. I picked up with my bare hands the clods and dried stems as well as the plastic and corroded nails that have floated into this space. While we discuss the ecological landscape that is quickly taking the land and lives of marginalized communities, we must allow it all to belong. We must not separate the struggling borage from the tag that was ripped from a piece of clothing bought by someone in America, made by slave labor, and tossed in a trash bin that overflowed just enough that the wind took this piece of paper and ended up in the empty dirt. (This is at the top of the Coke bottle). And did the construction workers who trampled my onions know what they were doing? They did not. They were doing their job because they need to survive. They have mouths to feed. The linear economy of our trash represents the disparities that the lack of a circular relationship to the land and one another represents. Let us all hold the messy bits of ourselves to wholeness in the empty vessels of the ways we participate.

Published by celinamcmanus

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