Tuesday Poem: Memorial (for Jonathan Franzen)

for Jonathan Franzen

Arms outstretched, the novelist
stands amid the ruins of nature.

It’s a curated nature: his
cultivated rescue garden,

a scoop of hills and plains,
wind large among dead pines and dying needles.

He has gathered all the birds, these valiant
survivors of drought and storm

into one remaining protected preserve:
the last refuge of wildness, this circle of life

kept smoothly spinning by selfless human cogs,
volunteers who’ve let the world go to hell

in the service of saving a fragment. This
is their last best hope, their final stand.

But climate, the revenger’s tragedy of the commons,
cannot be bought off or set aside.

Their predator-proof fences, their best
intentions, have no effect on fire or air.

Lightning sparks a firestorm, trees
adding their carbon to the oversaturated sky.

Birds roast in the updrafts, volunteers
are crisped below. In the aftermath,

the novelist arrives, surveys
the ruins of the little world he’s made,

and stretches out his arms. Tiny skeletons
flutter to perch on his scarecrow bones.

Credit note: This poem is included in my new collection New Sea Land (Mākaro Press, 2016). It is previously unpublished.

Tim says: Why is this poem addressed to Jonathan Franzen? Because he wrote this article for The New Yorker in 2015:

The central thesis of this article, as I read it, is that because contemplating the likely effects of climate change is too depressing, and because taking action on it is too hard, it’s better (or at least, it’s better for Jonathan Franzen) to focus on try to save what he’s most interested in – birds.

I’m a big fan of wildlife conservation and bird sanctuaries – on our offshore islands, on mainland islands, and maybe even nationwide at some point. But to imagine that birds can be exempted from the effects of climate change is short-sighted and self-defeating.

Fortunately, New Zealand groups such as Forest & Bird are well aware of the risk climate change poses to New Zealand’s birds and forests. Jonathan Franzen’s love of birds does him credit,and I’d love to see him place that in a wider context.

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