unenlightened sun dried method

Plastic I collect on my daily walk


white square of plastic with grabby ghost hands in the corners and ghost face WARNING TO AVOID DANGER OF SUFFOCATION KEEP PLASTIC AWAY FROM BABIES AND UNSUPERVISED CHILDREN

eight pristine black ties that lock tight, I locked one now can’t get it undone

ubiquitous GATORADE PERFORM 02 SERIES GRAPE, smashed

cup fragment, flat

five luminescent pink strands of ribbon


hot pink wrapper with white and gold Chinese characters and dayoufood.cn where I learn the company was founded in 1779, and this: “With advanced manufacturing facility of preserved fruit and leading product line and quality inspection device of salt-dried peanuts, Da You adopts closed process in manufacturing and packaging and extensively uses many sophisticated food manufacturing techniques such as vacuum soaking, long-range infrared ray dried baking, high-speed pillow-size packaging and vacuum packaging. It totally discards the traditional unenlightened sun dried method.”

One year with car part

It has been about one year since the car part turned up in my front yard and moved into my life. It is difficult to capture the essence of the car part in a photo, but Quincy assists. Below is the latest installment on the obsession.


The Lives

I will have to go further back, I thought. But I didn’t know where to start. Then Dana Ward once again sets the wires thrumming. He posts a poem to Facebook by Harris Schiff called “Money.”[i] It stomps right through me weeping, then turns me back to look. Ok, money. Picture this: oil. It burbles up thick and black, residue of creatures from an ancient ocean, molecules erupting out of lives lived a few hundred million years ago. Then, people. Some arrived in their lives on a spot of earth. They brought machines to cut down trees, tear up plants and scrape bare the dirt. Some brought explosives or a giant truck smashing down a metal plate to send shock waves through the earth. Someone set up a geophone to listen to vibrations in the rock, and some ran a computer program to translate the waves into a picture. Someone studied the 3-D map to divine whether pools of crude might ooze beneath rock. Some others in offices made the decisions and paid money to others to do this work in hopes of getting more money back. the ugliest/ strongest/ horse/ Those they paid for their lives brought a drilling rig to the spot and positioned its metal teeth to bite down into dirt. They inserted a pipe, and concrete, and chemicals and sucked the viscous remains up out of the earth. People labored, sweating and straining, some bones got smashed, blood ran, they breathed hard, sucking tiny particles of soot from the diesel machines deep inside spongy lung tissue. you can ride/ in this pasture/ do you want to/

Someone invented a way to crack apart the molecules of the ancient creatures and force them into new shapes, the long, criss-crossing chains that make plastic. In the case of this car part, I guess acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, ABS, known for impact resistance and durability plus a smooth surface, used for car parts, computer and electronic casings and Legos. It takes two kilograms of oil to make one kilogram of ABS.[ii] Its molecular structure looks like this:[iii] It will take you/ but it might not/ obey you/

ABS by Jen


Some people put the oil into pipes or in containers on a truck or a ship to a refinery. Some others heated the oil until it turned into a gas, then cooled into different liquids: gasoline, diesel, naphtha, amber-colored and thin. Some others heated the naphtha with steam to crack it into smaller molecules — propylene, ethylene, butadiene, and benzene. Some packed these chemicals in containers and carried them by truck or train or ship to the chemical plant. There, some others reacted the chemicals together to form long chains of molecules bound to each other.[iv]

The material comes out as pellets, white. Some people put the pellets in containers and carried them over land or over sea to a factory. In the factory some people took the pellets, melted them down, added dye, and injected the hot plastic into a mold of this car part—four feet long and curved with a complex, irregular shape to fit the chassis. Someone designed that complicated mold, and someone else built it. In the factory, a person, in the living hours of a life, molded thousands of car parts, dwarfed by the beige machine, ears vibrating with its whirrs, and grrs and squeals. If you can tame it/ you might be in trouble/

At each step, some molecules escaped, called “waste,” into air or into ground or water. Some breathed these molecules, they burned the lungs and made it hard to get oxygen, others swam through them or swallowed them in clear liquid from the tap. Some molecules floated high into the atmosphere and stayed there, soaking up waves of heat, causing them to bend and vibrate, jostling their neighbors who vibrated too, everybody heating up. Some of the molecules will float up there for a few hundred years, some will stay a few hundred thousand, just there, molecules out of creatures from an ancient ocean now in the atmosphere, holding in heat, warming up the planet. and where/ do you want to go from here/ anyhow?

The car part curves together past and future, not as metaphor. Look: an old ocean, salty and wet, filled with lives feeding off sunlight and one another. One life runs out, it sinks, one, and another, and another, slow sinking to darkness over years, a few hundred million — so many years who can think them — sifting, layering, compressing ever deeper into earth. Ice advances and retreats, more oceans, a few mountains erupt — think of this as film, time lapse, I guess. Then minds come and eyes and ears with instruments to listen underground for residues of energy left from lives. Then machines come and hands and bodies to draw them back out of the earth. Then trucks and ships and trains and those who load and fuel and drive them over roads and oceans thousands of miles to processing plants and factories. Then the instance of this car part’s coming to shape. The place and time and day of that event. The person in a life bringing breath and thought and muscle to bear in its creation. Then the piece itself, molecules locked in a code decomposers can’t break, so it lasts in this state, far outlasts the bonds among molecules in the person who formed it, in the person who attached it to the vehicle, in the person who drove the vehicle and had some mishap, some accident, some swerving that scraped up the surface of the ABS and left it tangled against my fence. Its bonds will long outlast my own and those of everyone I know or can imagine out into the future, hundreds of generations extended, this piece of plastic just like this or perhaps worn slowly down by sunlight and weather into finer and finer bits dispersed throughout earth, fed to an albatross chick out of oceans rising, ice melting, scorched forests turned to desert, desert turned to ocean lifeless this molecule with its crisscrossed shape a few hundred years, maybe thousands, I touch it, this car part, the future. The past. Its brutal hooves/ the subject of this sentence is money/ cut welts across the weeping world

[i] Harris Schiff, “Money,” One More Beat (Accent Editions, 2012). Lines from the poem appear throughout the section.

[iii] Image created by Jennifer Coleman, used with permission

Alice Notley

Every time I see Alice Notley read I want to leave my life and just follow her around.


Some Alice:

I don’t care about anything else. I want to see peacocks in my yard right now.

I am listening for something else. Not death but what she hears.

How can we disattach ourselves from those binding us to their use?

I would rain on you if I were rain. Hard.

I’m courting chaos in me.

I am leading you to language that restructures the universe.

We are making what we are. Just that.

the history of ever

plastic I collect on my daily walk


SMARTIES wrapper with a drawing of SMARTIES in a wrapper

smashed Dixie cup

MILK CHOCOLATE Made with Real Milk Chocolate m&m’S® BRAND FUN SIZE®

red dog bone fragment


pepsi wrapper

INSERT STRAW HERE silver CAPRISUN® pack NO ARTIFICIAL COLORS, FLAVORS OR PRESERVATIVES Wild Cherry Cherry Flavored Juice Drink Blend From Concentrate With Other Natural Flavor drawing of blond boy in pink shorts and a yellow shirt with pink cuffs and collar kicking a soccer ball

green candy wrapper Chinese letters

broken fork, white

red star, 6 points

broken blue bottle cap

clear shard

black pen barrel, smashed

straw fragment red stripes

Caramel Crunch Bar NATURALLY & ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED Medifast with black caduceus

White Whale



After Kamilo, I thought I would need to travel to see every junk beach on the planet—places where spinning gyres, currents and geography coincide, and the ocean vomits up some portion of its vast cargo: in the Pacific, the Pitcairn Islands, Hawaii, Malorrimo; Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico; in the Atlantic, the Azores and Bermuda. [i]

Then I would need a submersible to take me down three thousand feet into sea canyons in the Mediterranean, where plastic bottles pile up in the sediment like strange cylindrical fossils. Then across the seabed and downward, darker, colder, eight thousand feet below ice floes in the Greenland Sea, my arc of light reflecting off a clear plastic bag floating past in the black.

Then smaller and smaller still until microscopic to slide inside the gut of a lugworm, Arenicola marina, burrowed beneath beige sand at Dovercourt beach on England’s east coast. A powerful suck from the worm’s mouth swirls me inside it, slick and dark, along with sand grains and tiny plastic particles.

The worm strips from the miniscule bits whatever its cells recognize as food, whatever is organic—bacteria, algae, protozoa, and the laboratory chemicals that saturate the plastic particles—polychlorinated biphenyls, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene, nonylphenol, phenanthrene. A bar-tailed godwit catches sight of the worm’s dark tip, snatches with its narrow beak, swallows in two quick jerks; the worm and all it enfolds meld into bird cells. As for me, I am ejected, only imaginary, cast back on the beach in a tube of sandy worm excrement. [ii]

Ridiculous. I lay on the couch on a Friday, the 13th of January, thinking such thoughts. I’d failed. I felt incapable of writing this book, of expanding to the necessary scope. Of acquiring the time and money and breadth and depth of—what? I didn’t even know what I was missing. The Autobiography of Plastic, a title I announced to my friends on a whim and kept repeating because people liked it—enough to give me a few thousand dollars in grant money. Enough to interest a book agent, who asked for chapter summaries. But I had no idea what it meant.

January in Portland means evening all day. It had rained, and it was going to rain. But for a moment the sun burned almost all the way through the cloud layer and turned the sky silver. I decided to stop thinking, get off the couch and take the dog for a walk. I opened the front door and there in the dirt sat a white plastic ring, gleaming. I picked it up. It was deeply worn and weathered, hard to tell where it came from, the mouth of a pill bottle maybe. It had teeth marks in it, definite marks from some animal’s mouth.

It struck me: I am not lucky enough to be worm excrement. Imagining piloting around, an explorer peering out from my safe suit of self—that is wish fulfillment, a fantasy. I am inside the worm still, the worm inside me, sloshing molecules back and forth. A house forms its own coast, a body does—skin, blood, gills, lungs—awash in the currents and whatever they bring, seeping through cells respiring, tidal.

The teeth that chewed on this plastic probably belong to my dog. He chewed on it, and swallowed some tiny plastic particles, and some drifted down into dirt, where in about one month, I will poke a few holes and tuck in pale peas that will grow into plants, vining, building themselves out of sun, water, air, and nutrients pulled through roots from the soil. In May I’ll walk out and pinch off a sweet green pod, chew it up with my teeth, and swallow. Quincy the dog will do the same, he learned it from me, tugging pods with his mouth. I always plant too many, so I will fill bowls with peas and share them with neighbors, who will admire the sweet crunch in their teeth. In there, along with whatever molecules make a pea, there might be a few broken free from the plastic bits, and whatever else has washed this coast in its sixty years as suburban tract—particles of soot from car exhaust, bits of mercury fallen with rain drops, asbestos slivers from the house shingles. Here, let me feed you, neighbor, let me feed you, dog, let me feed you hungry body.

I put the ring in my pocket and walked out the gate. I felt a little whisper of that vertigo. My neighborhood that had been familiar—kind of weedy and worn but tidy—seemed awash suddenly. Everywhere I looked, plastic. I put every piece in my pocket. Then I couldn’t stop. Every day, on every dog walk, with disgust, boredom, sometimes delight, I kept on picking up plastic. Like at Kamilo, I started to make lists, recording each piece and taking a photo. I stored all the plastic in plastic garbage bags on the back porch.

In October the car part turned up. “That’s your white whale,” said Jen when I dragged it in. After several weeks she asked how long I planned to keep the car part in the living room. I moved it into the bedroom, on the floor near my side of the bed.

[i] Flotsametrics, 191

[ii] David K.A. Barnes, Francois Galgani, Richard C. Thompson and Morton Barlaz, “Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments,” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2009 364, 1985-1998.





P1000993The thing turned up in a corner of the yard, just outside the fence. I found it when I went out in the afternoon to take Quincy for a walk. Curved and black, plastic. Four feet long, a foot at its widest. I thought at first it was a car bumper. I put it in the grass in front of the porch. The next morning it was still there. I sat next to it in the sun and looked close.

I was thinking of Heidegger, his essay called “The Thing.” He writes that distance disappears and all things come equally close because of technology. In 1949 he meant airplanes, the radio, TV. Things congeal around us in a uniform distanceless. But this does not make anything present. The only way to approach a thing, to bring it near, is by sidling up to it, by thinking around, or through, what appears obvious. He performs this kind of meditation on the “thingness” of a clay jug.[i]

So I thought of meditating on this car part. Why did I put in the poem “Nothing” the image of the plastic inside the albatross. I am the no and the yes — a line I stole from ‘Annah Sobelman’s first book. It has lived in my mind for years: an itch or splinter, contaminant. In the poem, Sobelman follows the line with a qualifying phrase. She narrows it, makes it domestic. I want the raw declaration, hanging there on the turn of itself:

I am the no

and the yes

The albatross filled with plastic. Is it part nothing because it’s dead, the door not there. Maybe. More, it gives rise to a no. It is ugly, a painful image. I want it to go. But it persists. It pierces the uniform distanceless of my life, like the no and the yes.

[i] Martin Heidegger, “The Thing” in Poetry, Language, Thought trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 163-186

not a safe alternative

P1000984blond and brown HERSHEY’S® mini Cookies ‘n’ Creme wrapper

Lay’s® BRAND® yellow and red Classic GUARANTEED FRESH UNTIL PRINTED DATE OCT 22 746120936 33 8:47

Starbucks cup marked H2O This polypropylene cup uses 15% less plastic and creates 45% fewer carbon emissions than a cup made from PET.

green ribbon tied in a knot

rubber band, broken

BOURBON WHITEROLLITA yellow, brown and gold striped wrapper

pair of pantyhose caked in mud pulled from the grid of the storm drain out front

lavendar tag from my plant 5755 Blueberry Brigitta Vaccinium corymbosum

SWISHER SWEETS® aqua colored wrapper SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Cigars Are Not A Safe Alternative To Cigarettes.

black zip tie



white straw with red and yellow stripes

10/9/13 our white pure friends


GLACÉAU smartwater® bottle smashed flat partly scraped off text … why we copied our white pure friends by creating smartwater® smartwater® is vapor distilled so it’s in its purest original state but we don’t stop there. we one-up the clouds by adding electrolytes. it’s a difference you can taste…unless, of course, you prefer the taste of stuff that comes from underground … like spring water (then you’re on your own).

BROKeR’s® Reserve American Blended Whiskey 40% ALC/VOL A DISTINCTIVE BLENDED WHISKEY SMOOTH IN CHARACTER square-shouldered clear bottle also smashed flat

clear bag Trellis Earth Products Inc. http://www.trellisearth.com This bag contains natural, bioLOGICAL ingredients, and Earth-friendly polymers. WARNING: TO AVOID DANGER OF SUFFOCATION, KEEP THIS PLASTIC BAG AWAY FROM BABIES AND CHILDREN. DO NOT USE THIS BAG IN CRIBS, CARRIAGES, OR PLAYPENS.

white fork Trellis Earth showing lots of wear


white foam block part worn off showing individual little foam bubbles

fat straw, white

SWISHER SWEETS® powder blue wrapper (half)

clear bottle cap

little juice straw, dirty

fat straw, white

wrapper fragment WWW.JOVYCANDY.COM ©2009 TRIUNFO MEX, INC.

two butterfly barretts, one pastel purple with checkered wings and a pink body, antennae broken off, one pastel green with a purple body, glitter spots on its wings