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Fragments from The Last—And Only—Anthropocene:
“We must love the perishable earth…”

by Andrew Mulvania

—after Adam Zagajewski, Michael Harper, and John Coltrane

We must love the perishable earth, our perishable life,
birdsong (for the time being) in the mornings and at evening,
matutinal and crepuscular; must love words like “matutinal”
and “crepuscular”; must love language
that allows us to say, “We must love”;
love the spring green in the stand of hickory beside the municipal tennis courts
off Fairview Avenue, vibrant this morning as a bamboo forest
halfway across this perishable world and earth—
in Thailand, say, or Burma—
against the blue rubber surface of the courts;
must love my girlfriend’s son’s school, La Petite Ecole—
a French-language immersion school—toward which I’m walking,
or “strolling,” rather, after dropping my own son off at his school,
Fairview Elementary; must love sons, and foreign languages,
and immersion, and girlfriends; must love immersion in language
and girlfriends, this beautiful body one can immerse in another’s
the better to know this life, this earth; must love
the emulsion that comes from such an immersion
that brings about more life, on more worlds, more earths—no:
there is only one earth this morning, one world,
the one upon which I’m standing right now while it’s spinning
as I’m stretching my legs first on a stone bench,
and then on this stone picnic table
whose legs look like a Grecian urn described in a poem by Keats,
poor perishable Keats, the tragic poet, dead at 25 of tuberculosis—
how’s that for some perishing!—
and I’m standing and stretching and spinning
while the sun rises higher and higher behind gray clouds
in an overcast sky, rising and rising as if saying or repeating
the phrase: “must love, must love, must love.”

PHOTO: Fairview Tennis Courts, Columbia, Missouri. (Photo found at como.gov)

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When my son was still in elementary school, I walked him to school on the mornings he was with me, and then—much as the poem describes—I would proceed down the sidewalk to meet my girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) as she was dropping off her own son at his pre-school (the two schools just happened to be a short walk apart). ¶ On one of these routine morning walks—it was just after a rain, as spring was coming on, and the birds were chirping loudly in the early morning air as the sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds, and the whole landscape was gloriously adorned in its new spring raiment after a long, hard Missouri winter—I was struck (as I’m sure everyone has been at some point in their lives) by the sheer beauty of the spring morning and how fresh and new everything looked, in spite of all we have done to mar the earth (as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it in “God’s Grandeur”: “Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; / And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;…// And for all this, nature is never spent; / There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”). I didn’t have a pen and notebook with me, so I pulled out my smartphone and started writing, pausing at the tennis courts nearby to stretch and reflect. By the time I’d reached my girlfriend’s son’s school, I had a draft of the poem finished. ¶ Ever since “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” was published in the New Yorker shortly after 9/11, I have been deeply moved by the late Adam Zagajewski’s masterful poem and its charge that we must find a way to love and praise the fragmentary and ephemeral beauty of the world, despite the violence we have inflicted upon it—and one another. As a practicing Buddhist, I realize—looking back on the poem—that I was really sending Metta (loving-kindness) to the earth, and, with it, all the people I love on this earth, even while recognizing the impermanence of all of it. This comes through also in the references to largely-Buddhist countries like Burma and Thailand that have been devastated by violence of various kinds (deforestation in Thailand that has affected the way of life of monks in the Thai Forest Tradition, and the Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar/Burma).

PHOTO: The Big Tree in Springtime. Photo of a 400-year-old oak near Columbia, Missouri, by Heath Cajandig (May 31, 2016). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Mulvania is the author of a collection of poems, Also in Arcadia, published by the Backwaters Press (an imprint of The University of Nebraska Press) in 2008. Recent poems have appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review and Smartish Pace. He has twice been a writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute and was awarded an Individual Creative Artists Fellowship in Poetry from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He teaches in the Writing Across the Curriculum program for University of Maryland Global Campus and lives in Columbia, Missouri.