Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winter Garden

Winter Garden

Skeletons stand up from a field
Of snow, stretching to a white horizon,
And shiver in this crackling cold
As Boreas blows implacably.

It is impossible to remake this landscape
Even with a painter’s vision
Or make those skeletons live again—
Though a prophet, perhaps, could do it.

Our memories of picking ripe fruits
Are still fresh, but with frozen edges,
And we wonder how those skeletons
Ever bore flesh, bore fruit, and thrived.

The season of our discontent has come
And frozen the flesh on our bones,
While we gaze through the windows
And remember, foreseeing, the green.

That green fire is buried now,
Hidden deep beneath the snow,
But still it flickers and flashes out
At times—if you happen to catch it.

For this boundless blanket of snow
Is a mask, not the true face of Death,
And the seeds of summer and fall
Are sleeping and dreaming of spring.

Image credit: Paul Gauguin, La neige Rue Carcel (I), from Wikimedia Commons, public domain image.

Monday, October 15, 2012



Undone we are by the night of Time,
The realm of Saturn and his awful sons,
Forever fleeing from thunderbolts
And an unforgiving razor scythe
Wherever we may run and hide,
Unable, unwilling to blink or breathe;
And every breeze is the burning breath
Of a better predator bringing death.

The night is not ours to control,
Those hours of unwilling return
To primordial eons of living
Not as predators but as prey,
The slithering fear still lurking
At the base of our swollen brains
And in all those chilling whispers
That are far too fast to outrun.

In the darkest moments of terror,
Under a boundless starless sky
And a demoniac grinning moon,
The Abyss is singing lullabies
That steal every inkling of sleep,
And evil creatures are skulking
Towards Earth on broken paths
Of fractured, faltering light.

When daylight dies, the memories
Too deep for evolution to touch
Awake and bare their fangs, alive
Again in the shadow of death;
And then, in a neural flash, is gone
The gauzy illusion of supremacy
That we have created just to survive
In the face of unconquerable death.

But not long ago, in the night of Time,
We were the hunkering prey,
And we were the passing indigestion
Of some smarter, faster beast,
And we were the victims of Nature’s disinterest,
And we were the scavenging vermin…
Now haunting our dreams and memories
In this night we can never escape.

Image credit: Christine Matthews, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Monday, August 6, 2012



We buried her quietly in the front yard,
When the sun had set and the rain had ceased,
The dying light allowing us to dig
A shape just larger than the meager box
That held her body, several-hours cold,
Which we should never have a need to hold.

We had seen her, and her mate, as well
As many groups of children through the years,
The happy couple returning every year
To nest beside a creek, and waddle by
The same old busy streets, and stop to eat
Beneath some feeders in a neighbor’s yard.

And here they were, the family at this feast
So readily at hand, habituating them
To bear the presence of people all around,
When out of nowhere and without a care
One careless, reckless driver in a rush
Struck her, mother mallard, and just drove on…

“She’s dead,” I heard and looked upon
Her still and silent form cradled so tenderly,
Thus cradled while alive and as she died;
So light yet bearing all the weight of death,
She seemed as though asleep, but no—
She slept forever, dead by a single blow.

We sowed some sweet alyssum seeds upon her grave
And apologized in vain for our so-selfish race
While bearing all the weight of needless death,
Of all the suffering wrought by human hands
And the cold machines that we have built in vain
To keep their blood off of our blood-stained hands.

Image credit: Catherine Munro, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On the Edge

On the Edge

The edges creep in from time to time,
And all the wild things
Sitting on these borders
Step over the line
Like wicked spirits
Slinking through a break
In a fragile magic circle.
Things get interesting
Out there on the edge
Where domestic and wild
Can mingle for a while,
Swap stories and reminisce
About the good ol’ days
When they were much closer.
Design meets spontaneity
In a fit of indecision,
A weighing of desires
And unforeseen consequences,
Until architecture and engineering
Become biological,
Entwined in a double helix
And fueled by the power
Of a circling sun.

That is all well and good
Out there on the horizon,
To be watched like a sunset
With space in between.
But the edges creep in,
Softly like a butterfly
Slipping on in through your skin,
Contracting like concentric circles
Sucked into a singularity,
Now a bottomless black hole
With the weight of a universe
Lodged firmly, intently,
Right between your eyes.

Here the edges lie for a time,
Lodged like a chrysalis
With some strange creature inside,
Soon to fly out to the edge of the world.

Image credit: Richard Webb, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Vegan for the Planet

Vegan For the Planet

Everyone knows that nature is in trouble, and humans are the main culprit. Since at least some of us recognize this truism, we so often hear messages about fighting climate change, followed by recommendations for pretty obvious lifestyle changes: drive less, use CFL bulbs, recycle, turn down our thermostats, buy local foods, and so on. While important, these common recommendations often miss something crucial.

No matter what else you do, if you are still eating animal products, then you are having a big—and ultimately unnecessary—impact on the planet in a variety of ways. (In case you do not know what “vegan” means, it refers to someone who does not intentionally use animal products in any way—be it for food, clothing, or what have you. So this means no meat, no eggs, no milk, no cheese, no fish, no honey, no silk, no fur, no leather.)

Notice I said vegan, not vegetarian. Besides continuing some of the most awful forms of animal exploitation through dairy and eggs, vegetarianism simply is not enough. Not even close. Dairy cows and egg-laying hens create plenty of environmental problems, besides their own serious ethical problems.

The reasons for the urgency of going vegan to fight climate change are numerous but fall into a few general categories.

We know that transportation and inefficient buildings contribute massive amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. And, unless you watch too much Fox News, you also know that all those greenhouse gases are warming our planet and having many weird, worrisome, and ultimately destructive consequences. But animal agriculture is a huge player in the greenhouse-gas game as well.

A report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization from 2006 laid out some disturbing facts. The report, ominously titled Livestock’s Long Shadow, stated that livestock contributed 18% of total greenhouse gases, putting it above transportation as a net contributor. That 18% of total annual human-caused pollutants consisted of 9% of carbon dioxide, 37% of methane (which is about 20 times as potent as CO2), and 65% of nitrous oxide (which is 300 times as potent as CO2). So that 18% may look pretty benign…but when you break it down, it is kind of terrifying.

I know that these specific numbers can be controversial, so I will not dwell on them…or ask you to be convinced entirely by them. But let me give you a few very real examples of how animal agriculture affects animals, humans, and the planet.

In factory farms, which are modern industrial farms with lots of animals generally in confined spaces, animals frequently suffer from respiratory infections and other illnesses due to the poor air quality. Not to mention that the human workers suffer along with them, with approximately 70% of factory-farm workers contracting acute bronchitis.

Just as animal agriculture breeds hot, toxic air, so too does it harm water quality—and quantity. Farmed animals account for as much as half of water used in the U.S., and the Environmental Protection Agency has reported that waste from factory farms pollutes more water sources than any other industries combined. The toxins from animal waste are in part responsible for the dead zone where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, just to name one example.

All those animals worsen the air, worsen and slurp up the water, and also “consume” vast amounts of land. The USDA says that farmed animals use up 80% of agricultural land in this country; worldwide, they take up 30% of the Earth’s surface and 33% of its farmable land. Equally alarming, millions of acres of rainforest are burned to open up pasture for livestock—seven football-fields worth of land every minute. So in order to raise more livestock, we cut down trees and strip away nutrient-dense soil, making the land virtually worthless in short order.

Those billions of animals also have to eat. And eat they do…but in alarming ways. See, in our modern industrial version of husbandry, we feed roughly 70% of the grains grown here (including corn, soy, wheat, and rice) to livestock. Listen to that number again: 70%. Of plant foods that could be eaten by humans. But humans can eat farmed animals, so no need to worry, right? Think again. Animals are horribly inefficient protein sources. For every pound of flesh or secretion, three to ten pounds of grain are fed to farmed animals. So we are practically throwing away tons and tons of perfectly nutritious food. We would do better just to eat the grains ourselves—and send the excess (which there would be lots of) to starving populations around the globe, who are also going to be the biggest losers in the climate-change game. I have heard that the current amount of food grown in the world could feed as many as 10 billion people, if not diverted to farm animals and if we were better about waste.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Sure, industrialized factory farming is bad. I get that. No problem. But I always buy grass-fed beef, and cage-free eggs, so all the animals who give me food are happy and healthy, not eco-terrors.” This sort of thinking is widespread today, especially with the rise of locavorism, the foodie movement, and prominent “humane” animal-farmers, like Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms to name the most famous.

Unfortunately, it is wrong. Yes, animals raised on small-scale family farms have different experiences than those raised in factory farms. But they are still objectified. They are prematurely slaughtered when they are at prime weight and meat quality instead of dying in their old age, and they are sent to the same slaughterhouses as factory-farmed animals. They also are genetically altered for the benefit of humans no matter the effects on the animals themselves—such as broiler chickens who grow so quickly that their muscles cannot keep up, leaving them crippled and prone to heart attacks. Plus, laughable labeling requirements make terms like “free-range” and “cage-free” and “humane” virtually meaningless. How can opening the tiny door of a chicken warehouse for a few hours a day be called “free-range”? Ask the USDA.

These “humanely raised” animals also still harm the environment. Most significantly, those grass-fed cattle may be more “natural,” but they also produce around twice as much greenhouse gas as their grain-fed counterparts and require much more land. And just because an animal product is local does not make it better for the environment. Because the production of animal foods, not their transportation, consumes the most fossil fuels and creates the most greenhouse gases, you do better for the environment by going vegan than by eating a 100-mile (or less) diet.

The saddest part of all is that this comes down to human choice. We are not, whatever Dr. Atkins and Paula Deen and the time-travelers from the Paleolithic Era might have told you, required to eat meat or any other animal product. Not a one. Millions of years of evolution left us as omnivores, not obligate carnivores. We can live perfectly healthy, happy, active lives without ever consuming a single ounce of animal protein. People have been doing it for years. I have been vegan for over 14 years, and I am a newbie compared to some other prominent vegans, who did it before the movement became a trend and before you could find vegan-friendly foods in your local grocery store. You can choose what you eat. Yes, you can.

And if you really care about the Earth, you must. You can bike, you can recycle, you can light up your life with CFLs, but unless you go vegan you are not doing enough.

Not only is it about the statistics, and the data, and the science. Those are readily available and overwhelmingly damning of animal agriculture. But it is also about the vision and model that we who care about the planet want to set for our global society, and for our local community as well. I believe that we humans cannot be stewards or saviors, but instead must recognize our place with all the other creatures in the biosphere. We must recognize and celebrate our interconnections and interdependencies, not try to master nature with our technologies and our hubris. That, as our wisest myths and stories tell us, is always a recipe for disaster. And the Earth is showing it to us right now.

Suggested Reading
- Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock’s Long Shadow:
- Humane Society of the United States, Farm Animal Protection documents:
- Farm Sanctuary, Factory Farming documents:
- James E. McWilliams, “The Myth of Sustainable Meat”: (Also see his blog,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Traveler's Blues

Traveler's Blues

These roaring metal wings are taking me
Away, reluctantly, from all I love,
Unlike young Icarus, who strove to fly
Amongst the birds but fell from high above.

Not pride, desire, intention, nor a need
To stretch my limbs and wander with the breeze
Has placed me here, watching the world below
Grow dim, a forest now instead of trees.

And though that distant place has fallen dark,
I sit awake, alone, enclosed, compressed,
And carried forward like a falling star
Consumed by dread of touching down, depressed

To leave the heavens, if but for a while,
Yet powerless to turn these wings around
And fly like mad to all that matters now:
The one to whom, though I may fly, I’m bound.

Image credit: Aleposta, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Iowa Dirge

The Iowa Dirge

I hear so many screams
Bestial cries
Of terror and pain
Cut off
           choked out
                                        shocked into silence.
And death.

Death in obscurity and shadows
Produced on an assembly line
Manufactured in factories,
            of flesh, blood, feather, bone
Clipped beaks
Docked tails
And pools of blood and feces
To bathe in on every square inch
Of the cold hard concrete floors.

The whir of the machines
The pneumatic jab of the bolt gun
The buzz and sizzle of electrical water,
All things hardwired into the machine.

Cogs spin
Gears scream
Teeth clench and lock and whirl
Wheel within wheel
Of satanic mills whirling
Vortexes sucking in flesh
Ground up
Choice cuts separated
And the rest shipped overseas
But worth something
Sold or rendered
To minimize waste
For better returns on the dollar.

What is the price
Of each life severed?
Where does that figure
Into corporate projections
Shareholder dividends
And stock-market ratings?

Are the costs of those lives
Written off
As the necessary costs
                                   inevitable evils
Of the machine at work,
The assembly line running
From field to table
from seed to fork
from soil to stomach?

Show me.
I want to see them.
Show me the balance sheets.
Show me the assembly line.
Let me hear their cogwheels whirling.
Let me hear the teeth, the gun, the steely screams.
Let me know how your fortified food factory
                                                                       the Earth
Runs like a well-oiled
Under the iron fist of your
Assembly line.

The doors of your factory are locked.
The windows, like mistakes on the factory walls,
Are barred, locked, sealed, covered.
There is barbwire atop the chain-link fences.
The security guard is armed and refusing access.
(And are those snipers on the rooftop?)
But all I want is
To see
to hear
to smell
to know.

The grocery-store packages, boxes, cans
Are dumb witnesses
Speaking nothing
Silent like the guards outside your factories—
I know because I have asked them,
Inquired in vain
For you have them well trained,
Like the people shuffling down the aisles,
And narrativized
Through the PR department
In which life becomes a widget
And then becomes a trope,
Farm to machine to idyll,
Built atop a humming machine.

The farmers
Are now all clocked in
Standing in their places
Along the line, day to day,
With no overtime, awful wages,
And sure as hell no benefits.
For they too are expendable,
A commodity
An expense
Wheel within wheel
Object upon object
Along the line, day to day.

I can hear the screams
Of the wheels, of the widgets,
Standing here beyond the arc lights
Outside of your fortified factory farm.
Let me in
                let me see
                                let me hear.
Let me know.

For I am not a part of your machine.

Image credit: Thomas Bjørkan, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, March 4, 2012



There cannot be a dark in me
More dark than where the peeping stars
Are swimming now like luminescent
Phytoplankton in a boundless sea.
But underneath the waning moon
When all the world is wrapped in dreams
And feels the failing light grow frail,
I breathe myself into a fog
Of silvery silence, cold and pale,
Where endless space is soon erased,
Replaced (if only for a time)
By shapes and shades I cannot name,
Though beckoning like memories
That sit beyond the edge of thought
And wave like trees in midnight winds.
But when one looks more carefully
Within that dark that mirrors space,
Forever severed out of time,
The light, as always, flits and fades,
As fog chokes out both light and night
To make a separate darkness there,
And here, in me, and bid me sleep.
But as I slip beneath the blanket
Offering eternal dreams of peace,
I feel a hand upon my cheek,
Another on my chilling heart
That is itself so near to sleep
As if grown weary from its toil.
And with their touch the clammy mist
Disperses, sinking down to earth,
And leaves that dark of cosmic night
Alight with all the things we wish,
Which shimmer now within my reach,
Reflected in two moonlit eyes
That somehow see a light in me
That flickers as a night-bright star.

Image credit: Josh Lewis, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.