Fragments Shored Against Our Ruins

poetry by Carla Sofia Ferreira

Fragments Shored Against Our Ruins(1)

xi. One summer fifteen or so years ago in Portugal, the trees around me are all in flames. Eucalyptus leaves and pine needles burst into sparks. The car zooms through the forest on the one-lane road. These fires are caused by record high temperatures meeting uncharacteristically dry earth. The flames turn the forest into an unreal hellscape. Close the window, I tell my mother while she fumbles to find the lever. Close the window. 

 

ii. Beginnings are apt to be shadowy, and so it is with the beginnings of that great mother of life, the sea (2).

 

i. To be radical means to get at the roots. The root of the word hysteria, for example— 

 

originates from the Greek word for uterus, ὑστέρα, hystera. Ancient Greeks believed that the uterus roams through a woman’s body, eventually strangling her and causing disease.(3)

 

At its roots, to be a woman is to be mad: drowned in moonlight, strangled by a bra.(4) We are always drowning, our cities flooding, our blood flowing. We are always being strangled. They are killing us and they misname it desire. They are taking us alive and they misname it inheritance. At our roots, we rediscover our origins— radical.

 

iv. “a spinster with no children” & “probably a Communist”— Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson re: Rachel Carson, in a letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower(5)

 

x. I can’t imagine men imagining the end of the world in any other way: Eliot’s “whimper” or a “bang.” When I am studying dead white men at Cambridge, I find Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. In a library where they are debating using pesticides to kill the ladybugs, I am in the basement and I read everything by her that I can find.

 

iii. When Rachel Carson first began the work of Silent Spring, the pesticide industry began the work of placing white men in white coats on television to discredit her: “If man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Ms. Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages and the insects, and the diseases, and the vermin would once again inherit the Earth (6).”

 

Carson was brought on screen as well, calmly answering questions regarding what her research had shown her to be a matter of life and death, or rather, a matter of many already dying.

 

She, too, was dying of cancer, already too far gone to recover.

 

v. “unfair, one-sided, and hysterically overemphatic” with “a mystical attachment to the balance of nature” read one review of Silent Spring in Time.

 

Farm Chemicals magazine took it a step further: they portrayed Rachel Carson as a witch on a broom flying in the background.(7)

 

ix. Imagining the apocalypse in high definition is a hobby for us millennials, fond as we are of killing industries. In high school, for example, we watch the movie The Day After Tomorrow. Al Gore has come out with An Inconvenient Truth a few years ago and his quiet powerpoint has been quite the sensation. I am afraid for Jake Gyllenhaal, that the wolves will maul his impeccable body, the wolves of course now roaming the frozen hellscape of Manhattan.

 

vi. When I cannot sleep at night, I listen to the audiobook of The Sense of Wonder, which Carson dedicated to her nephew, though she died before the work was finished. She writes of taking her infant nephew to the ocean’s shore late at night, to stare in wonder, unclaiming, finding ghost crabs, and letting the storm move the waves in riot.

 

What is a witch but a woman men cannot quiet?

 

vii. In 2019, we receive news that the world as we know it will end by 2040(8): nearly too far gone to recover. Elon Musk plans to live on Mars and I imagine so does everyone driving Teslas in the carpool lanes on the 101.

 

I tell my data analyst friend who majored in environmental science: I guess the world is ending in 2040 and somehow this is not a top news story this week. He looks at me, unblinking. The world won’t end, he says. It will remain. We will remain. We just won’t be able to recognize it. So much of what we now love will be lost.

 

I am silent as a ghost crab on a forgotten shore.

 

xii. What is a witch but a woman men cannot control? What is nature but that which we are a part of— “the web of life(9)”? And what on earth are we leaving?

 

The obligation to endure gives us the right to know(10).

 

iix. We don’t really know how the world will end. We know that we began in water. Likely, we will end without it. If the world is to be saved, I’d trust it to the hysterical and mystically attached: trees, mothers, moonlight, spinsters, ladybugs, scientists, and witches. Endings are apt to be shadowy.

(1) Title is a variation of a line from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1921). Original reads: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

(2) Carson, Rachel (1951). The Sea Around Us.

(3) O'Brien, Jodi (2009). Encyclopedia of Gender and Society.

(4) Fisher, Carrie (2008). Wishful Drinking.

(5) Ed. Matthiessen, Peter (2007). Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life of Rachel Carson.

(6) CBS Reports: “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson.” 3 April 1963.

(7)  Hazlett, Maril (2004). Environmental History.

(8) Davenport, Coral (2018). “Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040.” The New York Times.

(9) Carson, Rachel (1962). Silent Spring.

(10) Ibid. Carson is quoting Jean Rostand.

Carla Sofia Ferreira is a high school English teacher from Newark, New Jersey and the daughter of Portuguese immigrants. Her chapbook, Ironbound Fados, was published by Ghost City Press in May 2019 and she was most recently a co-editor of No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry, whose proceeds benefit the immigrant rights organization, RAICES.

Carla Sofia Ferreira

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