fifty years after Silent Spring...

one president (not the one
Oprah said is the one)

that depends on what the meaning of the word is
is, and this comes to mind when
I am reminded that the one

only Chinese friends of a certain age say now was
the one is there on the back cover of the pocket paperback
edition of Silent Spring that has been on my shelf

for four decades saying this
decade (that is to say the seventies)
must be. it is

literally now
or never,

he says some years before 9 august 1974,
when i remember yet another president
lying about military necessity. there is

nothing new under the sun. and what better proof could there be
that it is all connected? a specter is
haunting us, has been

a long time. man can
hardly even recognize
the devils of his own creation,

and the devil you know, you know...
time is, but there is no.
the obligation

to endure gives us the right to no.
i have been trying to tell myself that
the man who brought organo

phosphates into the everyday
bellum omnium contra omnes
must not be related because

of the a, no
o with an umlaut
and i wash my hands

of him. it was
the fragility of the shells
that touched me as a child

when i thought i saw through glass
darkly. and it comes to mind as
i watch a young man spray

Roundup on an expanse of grass
behind Hillel House. what was
it Hillel said before that other

rabbi was
thrust into  the
spotlight? if i am not
for myself who will be?
and if i am for myself alone...?

Rachel, they say,
was a prophet
who knew

there comes a time

when silence is

there comes

a time


the time is

there comes a time

when mountain flowers are in wild bloom
she giggles in all the color
and every morning

first bird sings the world

as though the world depended on it.

so primitive a science has armed itself
with the most modern and terrible
weapons, and in turning

we are we
are we are we are
the other people we have

met the enemy
and we is

turning and turning and turning
toward bethlehem to be born
                     for Robinson Jeffers

From the tower he had built the poet
looked out on contingencies of oceans
and words, and reached through whiskey
and cigarettes toward understanding.  
He was not far from the scene of disaster,
his and ours, and the underlying crystallized
fetish he drew from visions served
the way a careful teller is served
by spreading and backdating lending to hide
the paying out of small denominations,
a dry poem or a type of toad, the forests
turned into houses, tides of roads, the heavy
and overburdened atmosphere.  
All need just be observable, reported,
leaned in on, as if one were at the banister
looking into the circles of hell
toward the great frozen lake, but instead
it was waving, the tightness gone out of it,
a loose death.  The wave was advancing,
a committee was reporting on extinctions,
warning of consequences from loss of species,
labeling what was called a way of life
as the culprit in demise.  
And he watched it, sometimes conjuring
over a bowl of blood or a stone
as a prop in composing, watched the ways
death would fly in the room, as quiet
as a cat or a fog, come, vanish all,
lead into it, the nothingness of not
knowing, beyond the frame of every end
that would not change.  The blood drained; annihilation,
nihilism, each moment gleaming and crushed
as if by rigid stone, the social order spinning
into final chaotic survivalist
impulse, cracking the nut open, letting
the skull of the world ripple pointless
dreams of possession into phantom
realities, even as the end blossomed
in his thought.  Courage is not
in the air at such times, he thought, but requires
continuing into the light, recognizing
that it all teeters on the brink and shall
continue teetering, contingent, though thought
resist all that announces any
awareness of how it leans to collapse:
recognize, accept, understand at least once:
love our demise as we learn to foresee it.

"Extinction" was previously published in The New Verse News; it is also included in Johnston's chapbook Departures, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.
Enantiodromia by Guillemette Johnston