Bottle up and go

I love my filthy, bird-safe windows, especially when they’re being caressed by cedar-tree shadows on St. Lucy’s Day. The antique bottles are there so I can still savor the look of light through glass, and are of an age with the old springhouse in the dirt-mediated view they frame. The one on the right lies on its side because its bottom is round; it was made to serve as ballast in a sailing ship. They are green because of the presence of iron oxide, considered an impurity. Glassmakers went to great lengths to remove it so they could achieve the sought-after clarity, only to decide a century later that colored glass was better for preserving the contents of the bottle from the harmful effects of ultraviolet and infrared light. But the process they settled on in the interim generated initially clear bottles that slowly turned purple with age. When my brothers and I were kids, we collected whiskey bottles of this type from the old farm dump and all over the mountain, and I still sometimes find shards of purple glass out in the woods, disinterred by frost heave, and think about the lives of those who left them there—colliers, quarrymen, loggers, hunters, hard-working sorts living on the margins of society and doing what they knew to give the hard hours a bit of a glow. Because life can be pretty fucking grim, you know? They say between 365 and 988 million songbirds die each year in the U.S. from flying into glass windows so clean they can’t distinguish their reflections from reality. They simply haven’t evolved to process images in that way. Meanwhile, we humans are drowning in a similarly unnatural stream of images of our own volition. Yesterday after supper my mother and I were comparing notes on our respective grieving processes (for Dad, for the earth) and I said something like, every day I don’t wake up bleeding out in the wreckage of my home in an open-air prison is ultimately a good day, and Mom said yes, exactly that. There’s no escaping the imperial blowback; I’ve been expecting it all my life: the retreat into warring camps, the rise of authoritarianism, the quiet setting aside of the First Amendment ‘for our own protection’ from the barbarian hordes… it’s here. I’m sticking to my guns as a pacifist and free-speech absolutist. But I do notice in myself an increasing suspicion of our story-telling instinct, seeing so many people with seemingly unimpeachable faculties of perception and analysis, as certified by multiple institutions of higher learning, fall for the most absurd fabrications because they’re well told, they like/trust the teller, and it reconfirms them in some strongly held prejudice about scary Others. Few are willing to abandon their screens, leave the house, and exercise their brains and bodies in the open air. For prisoners or inhabitants of concentration camps, of course, that isn’t even an option. And I’m guessing we will soon reach a point when it will be hazardous to do so nearly everywhere, whether because of dangerously high temperatures, smoke from wildfires, or new tick- and mosquito-borne diseases. Someday I may have to wash my windows so I can enjoy the outside from inside, and learn how to construct seductive story-lines instead of erasure poems and haiku. But right now, engaging with the world through lyric poetry feels like a healthier response. Through all the tumult and the strife, as the old folk poem puts it, how can I keep from singing?

2 thoughts on “Bottle up and go

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.