Thursday, October 6, 2011

Philosophy: Protest Poems and Adirondack Light

The first thing I noticed was how the light fidgeting on the water moved, like jazz. Usually, autumn Adirondack mornings have more of a classical come-on, in a way that brings Walt Whitman to mind with his longing recollections of halcyon seasons enough to conjure this jigsaw of ochre and red around the pond and up the mountains; this deep and satisfying breeze whispering shhhhhh.

Yet, this morning something about the landscape looked like Carl Sandburg’s poems feel when read aloud. Sandburg, with his 1916 Chicago cadence was on the wind making oozing trombones of those same trees, going husha-husha-hush. A subtle difference sure, but still enough to make me wonder at it.

In a while I cracked on NCPR and let the world into my wood stove morning to shouts of “we are the 99 percent!” I listened, still looking out at the unsettled light and wondered at a world where a protest hundreds of miles away could change the rhythm of this morning, deep in the northern forest. Sandburg, indeed.

How many times have I read aloud in the voice of the “workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes?” With a soft slam down in emphasis right at the beginning as the subject reveals herself boldly, as if stepping out from the same morass of humanity now gathering on Wall Street “I am the people–the mob–the crowd–the mass.”

Further on gaining momentum in a kind of surrender with the repeated act of forgetting:

I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then–I forget.

Then beyond forgetting, lifting the emphasis and re-placing it on a new narrative of resistance:

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool–then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob–the crowd–the mass–will arrive then.

In the lull between radio reports I realized that I had been quietly reciting this poem to the morning, keeping time with the rat-a-tat-tat of light off the pond and the staccato chanting of protesters. Sometime later, this morning’s tempo eased back into the familiar cadence of Whitman making sense of how each of these stories across hundreds of miles are one:

On solid land what is done in cities as the bells strike midnight together,
In primitive woods the sounds there also sounding

Photo of Carl Sandburg is in the public domain.

Quoting from Carl Sandburg’s I Am The People The Mob and Walt Whitman’s Our Old Feullage

Marianne is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondack Park.

Related Stories


Marianne Patinelli-Dubay

Marianne Patinelli-Dubay leads the Environmental Philosophy Program at SUNY-ESF’s Newcomb Campus on the Huntington Wildlife Forest. In addition to teaching and writing, Marianne chairs the Adirondack Chapter of the Society of American Foresters and is an active member of the Forest Stewards Guild.   Please send comments to [email protected]




Comments are closed.