My climb towards that pinnacle happened incrementally, culminating in The Requiem nearly twenty years ago, or twenty years ago next February. It was not a true epic (I believe) and so I followed it in course five years later with The Resurgiad. Possibly someone will explain to me that it too fails in the definition of a “true epic,” but I don’t think that will persuade me to take a third stab at it.
A pity too—for I am constantly reminded how my writing has arisen from sheer ignorance; I might like to correct it, but now the inspiration flags, or conditions have become inclement to inspiration.
It has not shaken the world; but the approaching twentieth anniversary of my long poem humbles me. I was not humble then; but I don’t think that a writer who is overly “humble” could be said to embark on such an “epic” undertaking—failed or not. Time however humbles us all.
Recently, hurricane Harvey did its work in Houston, and then hurricane Irma devastated islands in the caribbean, smacking Cuba, and making landfall in the US with no shortage of damage and destruction before diminishing into a tropical storm. (A quarter of the state of Florida was said to have been in evacuation mode.)
While Irma was in the news, I was in Denver, CO, and its environs. On September 6 I traveled up “Pikes Peak,” which a family vacation brought me to as a boy, though I should be happy—along with the removal of Confederate statues—to see the name revert to its original “Sun Mountain” even as Denali has lost its “white” rechristening of “Mount McKinley.”
It does not erase history to change the name back—in fact (without intending to throw shade on Zebulon Pike) the renaming was an attempt to obliterate the original native heritage. I hold no store by “Pikes Peak,” and—while it is not my place to have a vote—I would argue for a reversion, simply to acknowledge that, as Leonard Peltier has written recently, the American relationship to nature, which is so out of whack, must revert to something more akin to that of the indigenous native peoples here (my words, not his, as much internet scouring has not availed me of his recent article touching on the subject). The New York Times had a good piece recently about some of this naming business:
The militiamen dragged Tenaya with them as they captured more Ahwahneechee at a summer village by a blue lake surrounded by smooth white stone. Bunnell told the grieving Ahwahneechee leader he was going to name this lake for him. Tenaya looked upset and confused and he replied, “It already has a name; we call it Py-we-ack.” Bunnell explained that he’d decided to rename it “because it was upon the shores of the lake that we had found his people, who would never return to it to live.”
In other words, Tenaya Lake—a place so important to me that I want my ashes scattered there—is named not in honor of Tenaya but in joyous celebration of the destruction of his people. (Daniel Duane)
Descending Sun Mountain, Known in My Childhood as “Pike's Peak”
They misplaced wherein lay
The greatness of America,
So whittled it away
Subverting rule of law.
Her greatness lay not in
Her purple mountains majesty,
Nor which color of skin
Held high hegemony,
But in the proposition
That men equal and by consent
May live beneath the vision
Of free self-government.
Instead they donned red hats,
Hooted, boasted, and chest-thumped,
And by such cheating rats
Democracy was trumped.
Another poem which I wrote occurred at the Denver Botanic Gardens. After spending some time hiking, (in Rocky Mountain National Park and other locales), and then the magnificently manicured gardens, thoughts inevitably turned to the smallness of oneself and relative insignificance of one’s (literary) strivings, in contrast to the vastness and variety of nature. Here is that poem:
Lines Written at the Denver Botanic Garden, 7 September 2017
“I have wasted my life.”
— James Wright
As saith the poet, I have wasted
My life: o’er many years set up some goal
In nature transitory; but I chased it
With all my body, mind and spirit whole.
Nearing its close, the focus sharpens,
And all the far-flung goals have fall’n away:
Amidst life’s turmoil, consternation happens,
Only what's genuine remains to stay.
The life of plants and animals,
The rocks, the breeze, the sunlight and the dark,
These stay with me, and very little else,
Alone in all the world worthy remark.
That great distraction, literature,
In all its permutations myriad—
Although it saved me — falls away for sure,
With other rich illusions finely clad.
The western sun begins to sink,
Yet I will not regret life’s wayward course,
Having enjoyed full share of food and drink—
As I await returning to the source.
Cloudless days were not clear—in the sky an ever-present reminder of the wildfires raging throughout the continent, and throughout the world per an article by Naomi Klein. In Chicago we have scant evidence of these disasters—but in Denver one heard them discussed casually in the coffee shop.
In a mode of displacement it has become common to “blame the victims” with words to the effect of, “they shouldn’t have built there,” but in either case—that of wildfires or flooding brought by hurricanes—these catastrophes have been exacerbated by human-induced climate change. Hotter temperatures and higher sea levels have their impact—and yet we in America have an Administration that denies science wholesale; essentially a cartel for the dying oil industry not too far removed from when the Bush family lately left its unsavory mark on Washington.
We visited the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, housed in an I.M. Pei building that looks good after all these years—possibly having just opened when I took my boyhood trip to Colorado, though I wouldn’t have known about it then.