Note . . .
After September 11, I kept thinking that the United States wouldn’t invade Afghanistan. I was so wrong about that.
So on November 30, when I realized that it was most likely that the United States would invade Iraq again, I began to sort through the news in the hope of understanding how this would happen. I thought that by watching the news more seriously, I could be a little less naive. But I gained no sophisticated understanding as I wrote these poems.
September 11 shifted my thinking. The constant attention to difference that so defines the politics of Hawaii, the disconnection that Hawaii claims at moments with the continental United States, seemed suddenly unhelpful. I felt I had to think about what I was connected with, and what I was complicit with, as I lived off the fat of the military-industrial complex on a small island. I had to think about my intimacy with things I would rather not be intimate with even as, or because, I was very far away from all these things geographically. This understanding made lyric—with its attention to connection, with its dwelling on the beloved and on the afar—feels particularly poignant and apt, and more useful than I usually find it.
November 30, 2002
Beloveds, we wake up in the morning to darkness and watch it turn into lightness with hope.
Each morning we wait in our bed listening for the parrots and their chattering.
Beloveds, the trees branch over our roof, over our bed, and so realize that when I speak about the parrots I speak about love and their green colors, love and their squawks, love and the discord they bring to the calmness of morning which is the discord of waking.
When I speak of the parrots I speak of all that we wake to this morning, the Dow slipping yet still ending in a positive mood yesterday, Mission Control, the stalled railcar in space, George Harrison’s extra-large will, Hare Krishnas, the city of Man, the city of Danane and the Movement for Justice and Peace and the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West, homelessness and failed coups, few leads in the bombing in Kenya.
Today I still speak of the 14 that are dead in Kenya from earlier in the week, some by their own choice and some by the choices of others, as I speak of the parrots.
And as I speak of the parrots I speak of the day’s weather here, the slight breeze and the blanket I pull over myself this morning in the subtropics and then I speak also of East Africa, those detained for questioning, porous borders, the easy availability of fraudulent passports.
I speak of long coastlines and Alexandre Dumas’s body covered in blue cloth with the words “all for one, one for all.”
I speak of grandsons of black Haitian slaves and what it means to be French.
I speak of global jihad, radical clerics, giant planets, Jupiter, stars’ gas and dust, gravitational accretion, fluid dynamics, protoplanetary evolution, the unstoppable global spread of AIDS.
When I speak of the parrots I speak of the pair of pet conures released sometime in 1986 or 1987 that now number at least 30.
I speak of how they begin their day at sunrise and fly at treetop height southward to rest in the trees near our bed, beloveds, where they rest for about an hour to feed, preen and socialize before moving on to search for fruits and seeds of wild plum, Christmas berry, papaya, strawberry guava and other shrubs and trees that were, like them, like us, brought here from somewhere else.
I speak of our morning to come, mundane with the news of it all, with its hour of feeding, preening and restrained socializing before turning to our separate computers and the wideness of their connections and the probable hourly changes of temperature between 79 and 80 degrees that will happen all day long with winds that begin the day at 12 mph and end it at eight mph.
When I speak of the green of the parrots I speak of you and me, beloveds, and our roosts at the bottom of the crater once called Leahi now called Diamond Head and I speak of those who encourage us to think of them as roosting with us, Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jay-Z, Cam’ron, and Justin Timberlake, Nick Carter, Rod Stewart and Shania Twain.
And I speak of the flapping of parrots’ wings as they come over the tree that reaches over the bed and the helpless flapping of our wings in our mind, our wings flapping as we are on our backs in our bed at night unable to turn over or away from this, the three-legged stool of political piece, military piece, and development piece that has entered into our beds at night holding us down sleepless as the parrots have entered into this habitat far away from their origin because someone set them free, someone set them free and they fly from one place to another, loudly, to remind us of our morning and we welcome this even, stuck on our backs in bed, wings flapping, welcome any diversion from the pieces of the three-legged stool.
December 8, 2002
Beloveds, those astronauts on the space station began their trip home a few days ago and sent ahead of them images of the earth from space.
In space, the earth is a firm circle of atmosphere and the ocean and the land exist in equilibrium. The forces of nature are in the blue and the white and the green.
All is quiet.
All the machinery, all the art is in the quiet.
Something in me jumps when I see these images, jumps toward comfort and my mind settles.
This, I think, is one of the most powerful images in our time of powers.
Perhaps it isn’t lovers in our beds that matter, perhaps it is the earth.
Not the specific in our bed at night but the globe in our mind, a globe that we didn’t see really until the 20th century, with all its technologies and variations on the mirror. Beloveds, when we first moved to this island in the middle of the Pacific I took comfort from a postcard of the islands seen from space that I bought in a store in Waikiki. There was no detail of the buildings of Waikiki in the islands seen from space. No signs of the brackish Ala Wai that surrounds Waikiki. Everything looked pristine and sparkled from space. All the machinery, all the art was in the pristine sparkle of the ocean and its kindness to land. The ocean was calm.
Beloveds, this poem is an attempt to speak with the calmness of the world seen from space and to forget the details.
This is an attempt to speak of clouds that appear in endless and beautiful patterns on the surface of the earth and that we see from beneath, out the window from our bed as we lie there in the morning enjoying the touch of each other’s bodies.
This is an attempt to speak in praise of the firm touch of yours hands on my breast at night and its comfort to me.
An attempt to celebrate the moments late at night when you wake up with kindness.
An attempt to speak away.
And when I say this what I mean is that I am attempting to speak to yous of these things in order to get out of our bed in the morning in the face of all that happened and is yet to happen, the spinning earth, the gathering forces of some sort of destruction that is endless and happens over and over, each detail more horrific, each time more people hurt, each way worse and worse and yet each conflict with its own specific history, many of them histories that we allowed to be formed while we enjoyed the touch of each other in the night.
But the more I look at the pattern of the clouds from our bed in the morning, the more it seems the world is spinning in some way that I can’t understand.
Oh this endless 20th century.
Oh when will it end.
In recent days, I hear rumors that ships are being fueled and then are slipping out of port slowly at night.
I hear rumors from mothers in the street talking to other mothers.
I hear rumors from lovers in line at the grocery talking among themselves.
I hear rumors from friends at parties.
I hear rumors of ships refueling and of ships slipping out of port while we sleep in our bed, even as I can’t see them in the news.
In the news I learn that Iraq is ready for war but most there are too busy to notice the refueling of ships here in my corner of the world and their beginning of that long journey to their corner of the world.
Even as I can’t see the refueling of ships I see ten killed in the Bureij refugee camp by shells from Israeli tanks on Thursday and then one more killed in Gaza on Sunday and then five in east Nepal by a bomb that might have been set by Maoists and then 120 in Monoko-Zohi by various means because of civil war.
Beloveds, how can we understand it at all?
Oh how can the patterns stop?
All I know is that I couldn’t get out of bed anymore at all without yous in my life.
And I know that my ties with you are not unique.
That each of those 136 people dead by politics’ human hands over the weekend had numerous people who felt the same way about them.
Chances are that each of those 136 people dead by politics’ human hands had lovers like I have yous who slipped yours hands between their thighs and who thought when their lovers did this that this is all that matters in the world yet still someone somewhere tells ships to refuel and then to slip out of port in the night.
Chances are that each of those 136 people dead by politics’ human hands had parents and children with ties so deep that those parents and children feel fractured now, one or two days later, immersed in a pain that has an analogy only to the intensity of pleasure.
Chances are that each of those 136 people dead by politics’ human hands had pets and plants that need watering. Had food to make and food to eat. Had things to read and notes to write. Had enough or had too little. Had beautiful parts and yet also had scars and rough patches of skin. Had desire and had impotence. Had meannesses, petty and otherwise. Had moments of kindness. Were nurtured for years by someone who was so devoted to them that they sacrificed huge parts of themselves to this nurturing and who today feel this loss of what they nurtured so intensely as to find their world completely meaningless today and will for some time after today.
And yet still someone somewhere tells ships to refuel and then to slip out of port in the night.
And it doesn’t even end there.
The Greenland glaciers and Arctic sea ice melt at unprecedented levels and still a ship fuels up and slips out of port.
Winona Ryder has thirty prescriptions for downers from 20 different doctors and still a ship fuels up and slips out of port.
Marc Anthony and Dayanara Torres renew their vows in Puerto Rico and still a ship fuels up and slips out of port.
Light and aromatherapy might help treat dementia, a patient sues a surgeon who left in the middle of surgery to pay his bills, cruise passengers continue to have diarrhea and nausea and yet continue to go on cruises, fires burn in Edinburgh, Hussein apologizes for invading Kuwait, United Airlines continues to lose eight million a day, Mars might have been a cold, dry planet when it was first formed, the Cheeky Girls knock Eminem off the charts and still a ship fuels up and slips out of port.
—Juliana Spahr is the author of Fuck You—Aloha—I Love You (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity (University of Alabama Press, 2001), and Response (Sun & Moon Press, 1996). This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, from which a selection is excerpted here, is forthcoming from University of California Press in early 2005. Spahr is also coeditor of the journal Chain with Jena Osman.