The Frequency

The Frequency

Welcome back, and welcome to the book party! I’m celebrating the just-now publication of my eighth collection of poetry, Harvesting Darkness, by Spinifex Press. It’s available from Amazon and other online sources as well as from bookstores. I’m truly proud of it; I think it’s the best work I’ve done yet, and I hope you are moved by it. A few words about the book itself: many of the poems are shaped formally (sonnets, for example). I found such structure helpful in engaging the dark subjects and themes we are all living through, including aging, political anger, environmental angst, and the fragility of life. Yet the very insistence of that life simply refuses to be denied, showing itself most consistently and affirmatively in the guise of art. That’s the real underlying current of the book, and I offer a sample here.

The Frequency

Federal prosecutors in Brazil opened an investigation into a reported massacre of 10 members of an uncontacted indigenous tribe gathering eggs along the river in a remote part of the Amazon, where the tribe encountered gold miners. The miners bragged about the killings and about cutting up the bodies and throwing them in the river. Funding has been drastically cut for Indigenous Affairs, despite recent and continuing intrusions, which activists say amounts to genocide. The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2017

Back from the dead, here you are again,
this time your reach exceeding your grasp,
trying your most but not always your best.
Blame the frequency.

A low-level frequency you don’t even notice
till you stumble across it when otherwise
focused renewing your license to practice poetry.
And there it is. There it’s been all along.

Soft, subtle, stealthy, a never-off motor
once you’re awake, oscillating between
3 Hertz and 7: part of you always in shudder.

And why not? Some other universe may
permit stillness, but might cost
you too high a price: poetry.
Here, we shudder in terror when seeing

the truth of ourselves, tremble
awestruck at the beauty–
our disease a propensity for metaphor
that shakes us to the mortal core.

When tourists float the Amazon
what’s left of native peoples sometime
stand, small clusters between three and seven,
on the banks. The women shout “Pishtaco”–

which means “evil strangers who come
to steal our oil.” Translated,
this strikes the tourists as a protest against
mining for natural resources.

Which is true, partly: slashed-and-burnt jungle
—agribusiness now—feeds cattle, yields soy.
Mining sends minerals to China.
One tribe in Brazil, the Akuntsu, has only four

members alive. Near them, The Man of the Hole
as anthropologists call him, lives
in a hollow in the floor of the jungle, firing
arrows if approached. He’s the last of his tribe.

It’s accurate, then, what the tourists think,
just not the way tourists think it.
The term pishtaco comes from the 16th century
when Spanish conquistadores explored

the Amazon and found to their frustration
how humidity quickly flaked
their muskets into rust. Inventive men,
devoted to their Christ, they simply killed

the natives, boiled the coppery bodies
in iron pots, and used the rendered fat
to grease their weapons:

The frequency never ceases
but we adapt to it, we ignore it. Unnatural
resources become normal. What practicing
poetry spoils you for grasping, though,

is how each of us in this dark universe has not
wakened more frequently to just such a frequency,
how we are each of us not in unceasing shudder at

not one seizure of grief after another, not convulsed
with mourning, shivering from cold
blood oozing sluggish along rusted hearts, not
cramped by sorrow, spastic with fear.

Back from the dead again, here you are,
trying your best. This universe,
this terminal health some call metaphor,
trembling with dread at the price of a poem.

Dig while you can, I translate. Dig. Dig deeper.
Then hide and wait. Wait. Force yourself to survive.
Fire poems when strangers approach you.
You might be the last of your tribe.