Collapse and Compost
Words for love
Today’s newsletter consists of a poem I wrote and delivered at a conference on collapse last month. I chose poetry because the fertility of language and creativity is found in surprise, between words which habitually do not occupy the same space. In this betweenness, the real can be felt, heard, imagined; I invite us to choose love.
I am going away for 6 weeks to the frontlines, to hear stories and feel the reality of the crisis in different communities. Planet: Critical will continue to run every week, but I will mostly be offline. I look forward to sharing with you stories from the big picture when I return.
Collapse and Compost
I am in crisis, my love.
The earth peels back her skin like split fruit, revealing teeth where seeds once lay, and a howl where song was once sung.
What have we done, my loves?
First, a web spun of words encapsulated all that is beastly as we looked to the heavens and chose blindness.
Then, a welded web weighed upon the land, cleaving spirit from core.
Now, byte-spun webs demarcate all that is knowledge into 0 and 1 in a world which has forgotten the completeness of the empty 0; the phenomenology of womb.
What have we done to her?
What have we done to ourselves?
We are in crisis, my loves.
I am Rachel Donald, here, now, with you. I investigate why the world is in crisis, and what to do about it. In another life I would have spent my time lounging in the space between words where truth sirens like a silent lover. But we live in these times, times where words are crushed against one another, gasping for breath as we fill our skies with orange smoke and pretend truth is only that which we ourselves name. What is in a name, asked a man once whose name is the only artefact we have to claim him by. If he could see us now perhaps he would call us fools, so taken are we by our signification. We live in a world without metaphor, for the unreal has become the real. And so what can I say to you now today which permits space enough for us to understand one another? For this, I choose poetry; we talk of pregnant pauses for good reason.
Natural laws want for no judge.
Here and not here; this is the earth, and we as part of it. Grasp my hand, and the feeling of our palms holding hearts is simply electrons falling apart. I fall through you, you fall through me, yet, somehow, we hold still, together.
The world is both here and not here. Each part(icle) a wave, only seen when looked upon. Everything exists in relation to everything else. Everything is only here because of everything else, and everything else is not here when we perceive our everything. We are in love with the earth, are we not? Built for communion, not power. Everything we are is everything that is between. Energy, god-seed, perhaps. We called it fuel, and thought ourselves to be different to everything else.
I was a child once, when plastic toys were to be found at the bottom of cereal boxes, before I understood the toxicity of our compulsion to make permanence out of death. I moved through the world as if constantly being born, constantly thrown into a world where time holds greater creed than place for those who have the luxury of wasting it. Which mad creature claws at the womb which protects it? Perforates the only shield between it and vastness? What addiction we have to desecration, masquerading our destruction as life itself, vainly grasping for control because once upon a time we arrived screaming and confused. I walked along the path in our local park and saw supermarket trolleys littering the burn, and could not understand. Now, those trolleys are to me like plastic toys found at the bottom of a cereal box; a mark upon a cave wall; do you see me now? I that is I, that I own, that I am, am here even when I am not; and thus, I have mastered place, and thus, I am eternal.
We need to learn how to die.
I massage my grandmother’s legs before going dancing, and am once 93 and 30, swollen and nimble, suffering and invincible. Her skin is soft like delicate words and my touch insistent as I pretend to halt time so we may share place some more. Her eyes close as her granddaughter kneels before her in silence, smiling, both, all, embalmed in the quiet we ask of each moment, sharing it with all the other granddaughters kneeling before their grandmothers asking time to forget itself—just momentarily. Later, I forget myself, I forget the cream keeping my own palms soft,one of the numerous gifts she has granted, as I dance with her youngest granddaughter in what was once a church, our laughter pealing as is our god-given right, for we were made to massage and to dance and to laugh and everything else is all that is dead at the bottom of cereal boxes.
All that I am is between these two women, held in their gaze, in their arms, in their hearts; I nestle in the web of life that bursts forth from us and sleep quietly for it will never give way beneath me; my child, I will never give way beneath you, even when the ground rumbles like a disturbed giant and the seas rise up in protest; I will never give way beneath you even as we give way to death; I am your breast, I am your womb, I am the envelope of the love letter you write to the world just by being here with me now. Thank you, eternally, and for never. Wiggle in beside me where we can let go and return to truth itself.
That which we think we understand are no more than webs transposed onto the earth, each filament a linearity, reducing the entirety of experience to the current between two things. Yet between each filament of our world wide web, reality bursts forth, swollen with restriction, pulsing invisibly. These segments, created by our linear filaments, thrust into being dimensional relationships. As we cast our eyes unidirectionally from one point to another, the whole world bursts at the seams, pulsing with unity, with causality, with inter-betweenness. Everything then is revealed; everything, then, is hidden. To alight with vision upon a part is to miss the whole, but our eyes are evolved from hunters. We zero in, missing, then, how everything is bound—and falling apart.
Fruit falls from the trees when it is ready to become something else; cheetahs fall to their knees when they are ready to stop sprinting; eagles fall from the skies when they have journeyed long enough; whales fall through the currents when they are ready to rest on the ocean floor. Only humankind, haunted by that first fall aeons ago, constructs exoskeletons to prop itself up as if marionettes will one day abandon the hand on their back and spring into song themselves. We flee what we see in the serpent, the superfluousness of our own existence, the existential inefficiencies of our very form; this serpent moves across the land, swims in waters, climbs trees, hunts, and lounges without a spine, without legs, without arms and hands and bones. This serpent achieves all that we do with so much less granted to it and so if we cannot be reduced to match its force we build ourselves out to prove our worth, each and every one of us a body of skyscrapers and roads and jets and ships, our skeletons made of iron and steel and concrete as we model the world on the very thing that the serpent survives without, like a devil walking amongst us. How can we make an image of ourselves that which isn’t us, and how dare anything survive which isn’t made exactly like us for who are we if not everything else?
And yet we are everything else, my love. We are the fruit and the cheetah and the eagle and the whale and they are waiting for us on their knees and the ocean floor, inviting us to become something else. My bones only mine for as long as they are not compost for the world; I carry marrow. One day I will be on my knees and fall from the sky and sink to the ocean floor, as I was made to.
How do we compost iron and steel and concrete? If compost crumbles delightfully between the green thumbs of a being made for love and wonder, massaging, dancing, laughing, the permanence of that which we erect signals to one another that, in fact, we are here and there at once and thus, eternal, will splinter like broken hearts, hearts that were denied love, denied massage, denied dance. The gasp of a broken heart turns breath to knives and hacks at the web of all that is for to nestle into the envelope of a love letter feels like an impossibility and a danger; we fall through the space between words, through vastness, devoid of possibility, safe in our isolation, frozen on the edge of Venus like Disney in his cryo-tomb. Wake me up, we cry, when it’s all over. Darling, it is always over and always beginning. The unsaid is a net, a network, waiting to rebirth you from its earthen mound, for you are no more than one of us and what a joy it is to be together.
Let us fold, now, into gardens. The world around us may collapse with gasped breaths and the screech of steel bone on bone as permanence turns to rust, but we are a pottering species and we will repurpose and salvage and deconstruct and tinker and fix and make until the world is the envelope and we are the love letter and the words are the soil and the space between them is the oxygen and our voices the sprouts which spring forth as we massage the land and dance upon it and laugh with it. Let us fall, let us fall again and again until we are flat on our bellies like the serpent and see the world with its eyes. Let us fall together into the earth and become sprouts of possibility. Let us find riches in seeds and warmth in embrace; let us take the bones of the past and make only that which can be taken apart lest we find ourselves once again stretched over the iron and steel and concrete skeletons like bullseyes for our own destruction, marionettes with their own hands up their backs and Baudrillard’s tears rusting their insides.
My grandmother was born with part of me within her and yet I carry so much more of her in me than she did then, perhaps even more than her great-great granddaughter who one day will dance like the great-great grandmother she knows from the words her grandmother will weave in the sky as we potter in the garden, the clouds billowing like ships sails bringing forth the fruit from the past so she may taste the earth within which she was born, seeds of stories stuck between her teeth as she laughs, seeds which will one day germinate the space between the words she tells my great-great grandaughter in the garden we nourished for her. Let this world be a love letter, the curl of the letters bellies within which to lie, the peal of vowels sails upon which to sail forth into the future with wisdom and care. Let space be not the cold edge of foreign planets but the warm breath exhaled by lovers upon skin, the furrowed brow of a child adding apple cores to compost heaps, the shared glance between friends as a worn joke reanimates itself and dances to life on the filament between their hearts which keeps them anchored as they journey through gardens.
Let knowledge welcome gaps and fold back upon itself to make space at its centre for a picture bigger than it can ever hope to hold; wisdom is found at the centre which is also the outer rim; what great beauty, our earth, which can never be held in sight at once. Let secrets be cherished as truths and stones left unturned so that our rivers may flow to the sea where the song of the whale massages and dances and laughs. Let community embed itself in the land, roots stretching out under the soil to hold one another in moments of dark and times of resistance; let us burst forth like the web of life which bursts from us, holding all that is and all that will be, fed upon the compost of all that has been. Let time erase the significance of maps until they are nothing more than routes for us to get to one another. Let us sing with the whales. Let the weather sand away the iron and steel and concrete skeletons of another’s vision; let us bless their bones as they themselves discover they were only permanent as we understood them and how little we have understood if all we have attempted, truly, was to rewrite that which was never narrative.
Eve, my great-great-great grandaughter, discovered story; she put the fruit to her lips and saw its skin was split and witnessed its softness, its juices, its vulnerability, and realised that she, too, was naked. She discovered the world was not just as she saw it, but could also be what it seemed. The seed of that fruit was language, and she clothed herself first in words, allowing no space through which the world might spy her vulnerability. Thus, she and Adam uncovered their nakedness by covering it. Thus, language uncovers story by covering it. Thus, the world folds in on itself rather than falling back as it should, splayed and wanton like the fertile ground it is. I am the great-great-great grandmother who massages and dances and laughs upon words so they may pucker and split like fruit for Eve to discover new stories, for her to discover space, the seeds between her teeth full of possibility, the future wiggling down into her belly and growing. Life stretches between us through mothers and holds the world in a web underneath a sky full of words. I take a pregnant pause and connect the dots with the marrow in my bones until all my substance is between and lights the way for endless possibilities for my grandmother, for her great-great grandaughter, for my great-great-great grandaughter, and I can rest quietly knowing the ways are endless and I will meet them in time when the words end and begin and story is a gift and that gift is the moment I can form the words which sprout in the compost of my belly as I potter in the garden I prepared for you and sprout the only truth there is: I love you.
I am 93, I am 30, I am yet to be born, I am already dead. Let the letter stretch itself into a filament which connects all things; let it become a tendril, a root, which holds the hand of others in the dark. Let it become a massage, a dance, a laugh; a fall, a decay, a feeding, a sprouting. Let it become my daughter and my grandaughter. Let it be erased as the love letter is written anew by their hands. Let it fall through you as you fall through me and return to the web which will not give way even as the world around us collapses. Let it collapse and be born anew. Let it become.
© Rachel Donald
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