Spark for Arvo Part

I wrote a poem responding to the beautiful song “Summa” by the Estonian composer Arvo Part, and my pal Andrea Murray interviewed me about it for National Poetry Month on Portland’s All Classical.

Here’s the poem:

Spark

for Arvo Pärt

Ache.

Ache or

lift up

If. If

of touch

uprushed.

Of ice

light broke.

As ache

one spark

upleapt.

And kept

it, love,

I kept

that leap

as shape

in shining dark.

About loss, and Prince

I made this poem about loss, and Prince.

 

On Loss

 

This

world span

rain. I mean

how the breath

can quit. It comes

and goes you don’t

believe it

stops. That mark

stays on

your face.

That face

that died

in your chest.

The limb—did

she think

of how

it looked? The toes

she once

could always

stare at. Pick.

She felt

its ghost

foot walking

Earth—which is

a missing

thought. The single

cell consuming

light becomes from

want—that force—

a Prince. His

mouth and eyes

his chest, the sound

he tears up

from in

side him—shriek

that tugs

my guts

from the soil

of fuck

and fight. Dance

that filled

my hips—the bone

bowl brimming

up. I felt

I—no. I never

felt your

wordless

mouth. I did.

It lit

me to

my core. I burned—

a wick

of want. I snuffed

it out

myself. That dark.

That’s loss.

The making of Dream Salon

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Chris Ashby, creator of the new journal Dream Salon from Couch Press, took me through the steps of making the journal this afternoon at the sublime IPRC here in PDX. This is a sneak preview, people. Come and see this gorgeous publication at the release party Saturday, January 17, 7 p.m., at the also sublime Mother Foucault’s, 523 SE Morrison.

The massive paper cutter--a beautiful circa 19th century hunk of metal.

The massive paper cutter–a beautiful circa 19th century hunk of metal.

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Perfect binding on the Bind-Fast 5

Pulling out the letter press plates for the cover.

Pulling out the letter press plates for the cover.

Cover plate

Cover plate

Folding covers

Folding covers

The brunettes take Philly

Image

Amy Catanzano, Allison Cobb, Jena Osman

 

I’m thrilled to be reading at the Print Center in Philadelphia on Thursday, 3/13, 5:30 p.m., 1614 Latimer Street with Amy Catanzano and Jena Osman. The reading is in conjunction with the Demetrius Oliver exhibit there, which focuses on astronomy and physics. Poetry, physics, art. What else is there?

Plastic land, part 4

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Dow’s Polymer Center, known locally as Plant B, consists of fifty distinct plants. In her book Plastic: a toxic love story, Susan Freinkel writes that each plant produces a different plastic resin or chemical ingredient: polyethylene, polycarbonate, polypropylene, polystyrene.

The plastic comes in the form of rice-sized pellets known as “nurdles.” Millions of pounds of nurdles leave the Dow Freeport plant every day, filling up railcar after railcar. The trains take them to trucks or ships, which take them to manufacturing plants across the world.

All those nurdles come back to us as cell phone cases and car parts. Toothbrushes, toy soldiers, and pace makers. Frisbees, fleece, dental floss. Those tiny, flexible tubes that deliver nutrients to premature babies.

But the largest proportion — almost 40% of all plastic — goes into packaging:  grocery bags, milk jugs, blister packs. Stuff made to be thrown out.

The other product that comes from the plants: pollution. The single largest component of chemicals released into the air in Brazoria County in 2012 was ethylene, a raw ingredient of plastic created by heating up oil or natural gas to “crack” apart their molecules.

Dow Chemical accounted for nearly half the ethylene released in Brazoria County. Ethylene is volatile. It reacts readily in the atmosphere to create ozone smog.

During a heat wave in June of 2012, an ozone pollution monitor in Brazoria County hit 136 parts per billion, nearly twice the level the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe over the long term. The region has never met the safety standard EPA set in 2008.

The American Medical Association and a bunch of other doctors’ groups have called for that standard to be set even higher, because smog attacks the lungs. It can lead to asthma attacks, and, over time, cause permanent lung damage.

Children are most vulnerable to smog, because they breathe more per pound of body weight than adults do. New science has also found links between ozone and heart attacks and strokes in adults.

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But when I visited Melanie Oldham a few weeks ago, she wasn’t thinking about smog. She was worried about chlorine. That’s what she traveled to Houston and waited six hours to speak about to Environmental Protection Agency officials.

Dow recently completed construction of a new “world-scale chlor-alkali facility” in Freeport. The plant creates chlorine by running an electrical current through salt water.

Chlorine is produced in very high volumes in the U.S. for a bunch of industrial purposes, including treating drinking water and creating pesticides and polyvinyl chloride plastic. The trade group EuroChlor has created a lovely chlorine tree showing all its uses.

The problem is that chlorine is also incredibly dangerous. It was used as poison gas in World War I. When a person breathes in chlorine, it breaks down into hydrochloric acid, burning the lungs and causing them to fill with liquid — death by drowning.

A U.S. Department of Transportation report found chlorine among the most dangerous substances to transport. A Dow worker at Freeport died in 2006 when a valve cap blew off, sending chlorine into his face.

Last year Dow announced it is selling off its chlorine plants in Freeport, with a buyer yet to be identified. Among Melanie’s requests to EPA: require the new owner to make chlorine only as needed so it doesn’t have to store large quantities, and transport the chlorine using the safest rail cars available.

At dinner that night, I noticed that Melanie’s black-and-white plaid suit jacket had a rhinestone cross on the back, with angels’ wings above it. I asked her about this later—whether the jacket was supposed to help make her case to the EPA.

But Melanie didn’t have time to discuss fashion with me. She texted that Dow had just published its application for a new ethylene plant at Freeport, its largest ethylene plant anywhere, and her group had thirty days to comment on it.

Plastic land, part 1

The first hint that I was getting close to Freeport was the steam. Big billowing clouds rose into the cold, grey skies above Highway 288 south from Houston.

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Then I came over a rise and got a glimpse of it — a vast chemical complex, the largest in North America — less individual facilities than entire landscapes, pipes and towers and stacks smoking and steaming and shooting columns of flame into the sky. This is the land where fossil fuels turn into plastic.

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I arrived in the middle of an ice storm — a rare event in this Gulf Coast town, where the average annual temperature is 70°.

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Houston had been a tangled mess of accidents and closed roads, the highway south largely deserted. In Freeport, the weather seemed not to have registered. Cars and trucks flowed in and out of factory gates, and the plants hummed on, as they do, twenty-four hours a day, every day. They hummed, literally. A low roar overlaid by a high-pitched machine whine permeated the town.

I veered off the highway and found myself at a gate to Dow Chemical’s Oyster Creek Division.

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Aside from manufacturing plants, only two other buildings appeared on the main road past the plant. Eros, a Lovers Boutique and the Eagle’s lodge.

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In Freeport, 12,000 people live amidst bays, marshes and bayous at the mouth of the longest river in Texas. The Spanish, who showed up here in the 1500s, called it Los Brazos de Dios, Arms of God. Today it is just the Brazos, pronounced with a flat Texas a and a short o.

Chemical complexes curl around the town to the north and east. Dow arrived first and remains the largest, seven thousand acres of plants producing billions of pounds of chemicals and plastics every year—nearly half the company’s U.S. production. And Dow is expanding, building a chlorine plant, a new “world-scale” propylene plant and increasing capacity at an existing ethylene cracker. This is part of a larger renaissance in the chemical industry across the Gulf, fed by cheap natural gas fracked out of rock.

It was difficult in Freeport to just wander. The roads kept dead ending at factory gates or water. I took another side road and found myself on a narrow gravel drive on top of a levee, no place to turn around, surrounded by bayou. I decided to abandon wandering and head to the local historical museum ten miles north to orient myself.