Planetary Poetry

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[ All poems by Richard Henry Whitehurst unless otherwise indicated ]

 Antarctica!

 

Antarctica! 

Blue ices of my dreams!  Patient and numbing mask of God!

Your scales and forces radiate into a vastness beyond my judgments...

And from your bleak unfolding expanses I feel

Crushing white weight pressing down to my still, frozen seas

I am stripped of all points of reference and deliver to you

The last fragments of myself ... naked, astonished, shivering ... 

 

Antarctica!

Your secrets permeate my body like aggressive viral strains

            That multiply exponentially in the chills of my plunging ... a quivering

            That refreshes my dying by generous contrasts of hypothermia…

I swim anxiously through your harsh powders, miles thick fading into white vistas

            Wedging and compressing myself into the endless tonnage.

We are laden with particles, with ancient pollens

And with time and fear ... with waters on the brain that have frozen

            Into this creeping crunching sludge that builds

            And settles toward the thinning void.  Here,

I seem to touch emptiness while standing on the pivot of the world.

 

Antarctica!

Your desolation seduces me ... a nervously laughing child

Guilty ... roaming  ... bewildered by your wonders:

Where patches of reddened ice and cold rock

Call forth the frigid forces of dissolution.

Where the cries of penguin and skua and seal

Absorb instantly into the harmony of your unfelt sinking.

Where on a perfectly windless dawn in times of pure silence

Monstrous ocean-swells rhythmically move through ... undulating your pack-ice

And there below, the cold breath of giant squid, sexual urgency, adversity!

Where blue whale in their ancient comprehensions

Express their smoking fumes ... gasping, descending

As electrified densities of krill filter through the baleen plates.

 

Antarctica!

Autonomous and unpredictable  ... white out to oblivion!

I submit to your solitude and silence,

Your protracted intervals, your cataclysmic ferocity!

Howl your frenzied gales and speak to me, a trembling liquid speck!

I obsess over you and will have you in ways that are my own without denying

The hopeful conquerors who contort within your uncharted crevasses

            (Their desolate bodies now solid as stone,

              Entombed and frosted by your diamond dreaming...)

Press your pressing white weight at the bottom of the earth

As open sky, mindless expanse, clarity and cloud

Mingle in a treacherous unbalancing of the world.

 

 

            ( Antarctica .........

            Perhaps your thick shelves of ice and raging storms are lost, as I am lost...

            Screaming on the face of some distant sphere whose star proceeds to die

            Whose crazed poets crumble into the overwhelm

            As they frantically try to scribble the dreadful sheets.

            What treasures do you hide beneath these obsolete pollutions,

            Your lifeless masks of cold where lungs come close

            As any flesh may come to inhaling the death of outer space? )

 

Antarctica!

I would consume your blowing mists

The lapping slush of sea and stranded 'bergs

Your grays of sky and rock and bone

I would pull close the sun to heat your ghostly face

Or tip this entire planet to undress you by the thaw

I must savor the frozen sadness of your blue ices!

Undo the lavish enigma of your mysteries!

Devour you by my sexual-hunger and other cravings raw!

Must feel what is hidden below!

Must flood your dry valleys with warmth, make your rivers flow...

Break free your massive deposits of sky!

And then…

(Though perhaps lost to my many, many worlds)

Would truly have come home to what I am.

 

Fragile                                                                                          

 

I felt frightened when the astronaut

Showed me the atmosphere sitting sheer and thin

Precariously clinging to the cool face of the world

Like an onion's fragile skin

 

Later a meteorologist scared me as much

By descriptions of cyclones that swirled

And fed hungrily upon tropical seas…masses of cloud

That when seen from outer space, do in that airy film

Sit like fragile disks of rotating cotton.

 

And in my human scale

I have felt and faced those living winds

In wonderment, alone…forgotten

As they gushed across open waters, and I gripped…

Resistant and strained in their pressing blasts

Amazed and absorbed by powers and perspectives

That tore the ceilings of my flimsy conceptions.

 

Soon then I studied

The great black wall from the storm's eye as I stood

Calm and centred in the eerie sunshine, in the silence

Where breathless pressures bent my eardrums,

and I was swallowed

By extended thoughts and feelings of Relationship

            Between myself and that silence

            And the granite wind and the tiny swirl of cotton

            And the speck of an eye and an onion's skin

            And an entire planet and the on-going void…

 

These scales and diversities and narrow margins of life

Aligned before me in one measureless moment

That drew me inward to myself as I allowed

Connections to be noticed that had always existed

Elsewhere in the deeper mysteries of my humanity.

 

Gratefully…

As the other dark wall approached…descended

I felt my fearful fragile little-self begin to die.

I chose to slowly peal away my fingers

And gently slipped over into the nourishing chaos.

                                                                                                     

"This litel spot of earthe,

     that with the see

        Embraced  is."

    (This little spot of earth,

     that is with the sea embraced)

- Geoffrey Chaucer  (Troilus and Criseyde  c. 1380)

I Looked at the Clouds                                               

 

 I looked at the clouds ...

 

Burning coughs in the blazing blue

Elated beings … fresh and few - adrift

In a dazzling dome of sky

As all existing things smoldered nicely.

 

Sun bubbled in the transparencies and I

Strolled west

Watching these clouds float south.

 

Within all this great motion I looked on ... as Joy

Filled me ... spreading

From my heart ... along the moist wiring ... Joy!

A living Joy, that gently pressed the statement

From my mouth ...

 

             Just sense the glorious wonder of Being ...  This!

                        (Bright and early afternoon...)

There

 

She relaxes with me before sleep
Upon our tired bed, there
Beneath the ceiling ... under the beams and tiles
Of the roof ... under
The infinite sky and its great-gasping-openness...


And there, the numberless stars and beyond
The vast galactic smudges whimpering from their dreadful distances
Where cosmological scales dissolve upon the walls of my imagination
But loom just before the descent of great Answers.


And there, in our bed ... in this tiny room
Where the cold separation of outer-space sits upon our thin layers
And pushes against our heater's meagre breath
There, amidst tissues, sheets, and magazines
Within these scales and the contrasted spectacle of our humanity
We softly speak of love and then


We're gone...
 

Directions

       " Urge, and urge, and urge;

           Always the procreant urge of the world."

                                                     - Walt Whitman


i have been suffocating for weeks in this thick humidity and today
The radiation tugs at my heels in a way
That feels as though both feet have settled into pools of glue.
The air is tired and i'm looking for relief in the fading light
This great storm's approach ... it continues to roll through
Whole sectors of sky and now attempts to crush the last dangling ray
Anticipation and renewal surge within my body
Beyond this quick and doubtless dying of the day
Above the raspy creaking of my tormented trees ...


And i am bent back, then cut at my weary knees
Beneath this rolling dynamic that stimulates my bulbs
By the ozone of its grand-scented-yes, and accelerates
Like a frantic whip that spins all specks
And disconnected pieces of the world
Into hot flurries of commotion, while i
Within these final moments of twilight grip
my fading humanity and fuse my feet
To the tense threshold of this dated perch.


Forward! As dry leaves and paper scraps are driven into spasms
Of arrhythmic dance ... and dust particles in their eagerness
Sponge moisture from my eyes and search
The drooling pores of my skin ... Forward into new directions!
As i breathe the cooling changes that have begun to emerge
From pregnant black masses and pressures like mists of rain spritzing
Upon the parched verge of my shadowed foregrounds.


Now the final ridge of hills to the south vanishes below the gloom
Below the primeval roar ripping that blackness into slits
Of uneasy brightness ... quickly catching me like unexpected death
As i stand stunned within these collisions ...
Where numerous birds take flight and boldly break upon frantic wings
Thrashing the skies in these gales before the deluge ... lashing my eyes
To the fixture of a piercing steadiness above my brittle breath
To a greater bird, aloof and distant...
Moving directly into the dark vascular contractions
A solitary eagle who reforms my vision by his defiant focus
And flings me into dim assemblages of worlds to be...
Into directions that crash upon my trembling shores!
Into directions that shift my attention to the geometry of futures!
Directions from grander visions and miraculous promptings!


Forward! Forward!
The electrostatic intensity of his compact brain and eyes!
Forward! The wondrous neurology and soul of his hunger!
Moving on toward some new and unknown sustenance
Beyond bone and flesh and blood but found by him
In the turbulent heart of this storm ...


we are enthralled! ... the grand bolts everywhere tearing, surrounding ...
And i, unable to translate these thunderous notes,
Now sense the newer collisions between us
Looking and listening from the greater sum that we are becoming.

 

i am called!
A fresh wind ascends from the furious cross currents
And i feel my feet freeing up!
Feathers form upon my lightening limbs!
The rain is breaking through! The sky, a darker gray!

 

And I move on ... looking down to the fading landscape...
With new powers of Passion and Vision ... surging new blood


As My old shell gently drops away

Sunning on a Winter Morning

 


I am here.


Here … upon this glowing beach
Where morning’s breath gently sweeps
Thin layers of warmth from my still body.


Exposed now
Both yearning and attaining
The densities of my visioning reach this quiet closure

A completion that has patiently waited
Within the rich transparencies of Space.


This, my introspective repose,
Redeems the sufferings
The tedium, torture and darkness
Of the chain of ancestors
Who brought me to this place … to be.


        To be small upon the Earth
        To be warmed silently in a winter sun
        To be a self who pales within the grandeur
Of this mysterious universe, within this immensity
Of everything in all its loving detail
Churning up and down the savage scales ... to be


The tinniest of mirrors
Reflecting


An infinite sea.

The Peace of Wild Things

 

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

                                                             - Wendell Berry

Fruit


This is the dream of the Deep-Self of Humanity:


That the Earth is like a great blooming flower...
And like all flowers, it is involved and moving toward something
Of which the bees and bugs and microbes
Know not.


And ...
There comes a stage
In the abundance of that blooming
When it becomes a fruiting
So that in the fruiting, the glory of the flower
Subsides and fades and falls away.


This natural decline
This wilting and extinguishing
Of the flowering
Of a great living world
Carries everything
Into its new order
Of development.


Do not cry little bees ... your part
Is not darkness
But light!
Everything is how it should be
The whole show
Is right
On
Schedule.


And the fruit?


Oh yes!


The FRUIT!

Sphere
(To my mother Ann)


The god of my ancestors fades
Where the great sphere of the world rolls her gentle curve
From proportions that bring the patient presence of stone and plant
Into the greening marrow of my bones.


It is here, waiting upon these common rocks facing seaward
Before the whispering curvature of the world that I hold
The huge and shimmering planetary scale...
I can feel Her thick gravity
Sucking down the sea to form a surface
As beaches and sand hills move across the bay to my left.
And to my right, small cliffs reach toward the south
Filling the soft sigh of vision.


Now, the stretched and curving line of the horizon
Soothes my eyes like the arching descent of a dove.
And beyond the slowing of my breath upon a distance
I can see ... the curvature of the world!
With her sheer garment of air in the clear layering above
And below, a perception of size ... of planetary and human scale…


        I am standing upon a massive and majestic sphere!
        And there! The molten Sun!
        And the sleeping stars and galaxies behind
        Drowning in daylight's warm embrace...
        And around me the thin film of life swarming in endless complexity
        And within all this,
        The mute wonder of being a single human presence
                Upon this great curving surface of
                

                      ..... a world!

© 2017 - 2020  Richard Henry Whitehurst

All photos of Earth from space are courtesy of NASA.

Many quotes by astronauts courtesy of the books: (1) The Overview Effect by Frank White - and - (2) The Home Planet by Kevin W. Kelly.