Geese, or Sheep, or . . .

September 12, 2010

We do certain things over and over again as if we have not understood history. As if we’ve been programmed to ignore it. We hate, we war, we lie, we steal, we cheat. But not all programming is bad (we should be grateful life is not TV). We also love and give. Often ignoring the instinct of cut-throat individualism, we take care of each other, we share the wealth, we don’t kick a man or woman who is down. In any case, we operate by certain codes, some good some bad, some as mysterious as existence itself.

I was thinking something like this when I saw a flock of geese heading south last fall —and now it’s the season of moving geese again. Unfortunately (at least for summer-loving me) it’s one of a pair of geese migrations that signals cold days and colder nights ahead.

But that movement of geese across an early sky reminded me how locked we all are into the routines of the earth, how essential the earth’s systems are to our survival, and how so many of us make our way through life without fully comprehending the significance of our dependence upon this earth and each other. These thoughts jump-started the following poem:

This morning when the sky’s red skin is
drawn across a beginning and the grass
is taut with frost and the clarity
of the edge of things recalls
the precision of an engraver’s point
an irregular V of geese passes left to right
like beads of an animated rosary
each a honking Hail Mary
a striving prayer
an individual articulating dot
an I-am of we-are

we are moving south
we are honking like hell
we are drifting up and down
in a wandering V together
to reach some destination
by a means coded in our cells
by a wisdom unknown
by an accident or lovely intention
on a whim or a want
on an updraft or drawn down
by a turn in the weather

we have been invited and
we are moving south implacably
as life moves

Sometimes we soar, sometimes we’re drawn down by the weather.  These days it seems we’re drawn down by the weather: ideological storms, religious whirlwinds, economic gales. “These are the times that try man’s souls,” pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, wrote of an earlier American bad time.

Bad times do try our souls; they test us. But as humans we’re not confined to instinctive or historical barriers. We don’t have to be knee-jerk book-burners, or avaricious TV or radio demagogues, or money-grubbing personality-cult former governors, or religious fanatics, or hyper-tanned just-say-no politicians, or self-interested race-baiting candidates— we can choose to dispassionately articulate our differences and reason our way out of crisis.

This is not to say the irrationality of religion or (often) of politics, is not a tough nut to crack; but reason is the only place to start, otherwise we risk becoming as much a fanatic as those we find contemptible.

We can reason and choose, or we can be geese, or sheep —or wolves.



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