by NONA BLYTH CLOUD
Last-Minute Message For a Time Capsule
I have to tell you this, whoever you are:
that on one summer morning here, the ocean
pounded in on tumbledown breakers,
a south wind, bustling along the shore,
whipped the froth into little rainbows,
and a reckless gull swept down the beach
as if to fly were everything it needed.
I thought of your hovering saucers,
looking for clues, and I wanted to write this down,
so it wouldn’t be lost forever – –
that once upon a time we had
meadows here, and astonishing things,
swans and frogs and luna moths
and blue skies that could stagger your heart.
We could have had them still,
and welcomed you to earth, but
we also had the righteous ones
who worshipped the True Faith, and Holy War.
When you go home to your shining galaxy,
say that what you learned
from this dead and barren place is
to beware the righteous ones.
What could some future alien species understand in this poem by Philip Appleman? How would they break the code of a language that refers to things that no longer exist here, things which likely resemble nothing in their experience?
The answer of course is that Philip Appleman (1926 – ) is not writing a note to future space explorers from Alpha Centauri, but to his fellow-inhabitants as a reminder of all that we could lose – a warning that the passionate obsessions of “True Believers” are a threat to life on Earth.
As Daniel Thomas Moran writes in Poetry Review:
“Philip Appleman’s landmark scholarly writings on Darwin and Malthus are considered crucial to the defense and the promotion of reason based upon scientific evidence. On these subjects he is considered an authority well beyond the confines of literature….
But moreover and more importantly, Appleman is a poet, and not just any poet, but one who has used an ample gift and sometimes peculiar insight to expose, in splendid terms, the wild hypocrisies and insane contradictions of the pious potentates who dictate the terms of living for much of the world’s population.”
If you are looking for someone to spark a renewed Age of Reason, Philip Appleman would have to be high on your list of candidates. Unlike a lot of other experts and scholars, he is a pleasure to read.
The wonderful humor in many of his poems on science and religion meets Garrison Keillor’s criteria: “Stickiness, memorability, is one sign of a good poem. You hear it and a day later some of it is still there in the brainpan.”
From his Five Easy Prayers for Pagans:
O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die:
grant me wisdom, will, & wit,
purity, probity, pluck, & grit.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs & a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice—
these little blessings would suffice
to beget an earthly paradise:
make the bad people good—
and the good people nice;
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.
Whether it is the Right Wing Tea Party in America with their uneasy cohorts, Catholic extremists like SSPX and Opus Dei, the Israeli Ultra Orthodox, or the militant Jihadists of Isis and their allies, they all will countenance lies, distortions, violence, torture and the destruction of cultural and natural treasures – whatever they think will advance their causes, because they all insist that they alone have the one and only direct connection to the one and only True God, so all the rest of the world must submit to their dictates.
It is a war in which Earth will be the Vanquished, no matter who may be the Victor. Their plain of Armageddon will become only the first “dead and barren place.”
Those who are not fanatics – the humanists, agnostics, atheists, moderate religionists, rational thinkers, indeed the overwhelming majority of Earth’s folk who just want us all to get along – need all the Philip Applemans we can get: A Voice Making Sense in the Wilderness.
Thank you for reading this week’s Word Cloud.
Sources and Further Reading
Last-Minute Message For a Time Capsule http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2003/03/19
O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/five-easy-prayers-pagans
The Labyrinth: God, Darwin, and the Meaning of Life (2014) – ISBN-13: 978-1593720575
Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie (W. W. Norton, 2009)
New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996 (1996)
Let There Be Light (1991)
Apes and Angels (Putnam, 1989)
Darwin’s Bestiary (1986)
Open Doorways (1976)
The Norton Critical Edition, Darwin (1970)
Summer Love and Surf (1968)
Word Cloud Photo by Larry Cloud
Final Photo: Tel Megiddo, Biblical World Heritage Site, Israel