In the Winters of This Climate
By chance and the circumstance of my interests, I’ve read a pile of books and articles recently on the costs of capitalism, from science fiction, to business, to investigative reporting and white papers. I had thought that this week I might throw my own small stones against the wall of our peculiar economic institution. A brief elaboration of my anti-consumerism philosophy, perhaps, laid out in a bullet-pointed list, with witty caveats and sly asides. People are so fond of clever listicles, especially when the alternative is real and dark emotion.
But I have always been too shy and earnest to play the class clown, and besides, the rules I try to live by are so simple they hardly deserve a list: don’t buy things you don’t need; if you need things, buy them used; and if they must be new, buy goods that are well-made and expensive. You know all that already. It is no great insight of mine that our blind and unquenchable hunger is consuming the world.
On the bookshelf outside my childhood bedroom was a row of books by Adrienne Rich, and tucked inside The Dream of a Common Language was an event bill for a reading at Temple University in 1976, with the poem Power on one side, and on the other, a note to my mother in Mormor’s scratchy hand:
And I sat and listened and wept silently, self conscious about my middle-aged maudlinity until I realized that the 20 year old sitting next to me had tears running down her cheeks. Thank you for introducing me to Adrienne Rich. - B
I still remember my grandmother—molecular biologist, single mother, civil rights activist, a woman too big in both mind and body for the space society gave her—every time I read the poem. It is one of my favorites. I thought of it again as I finished reading yet another great tragedy of the Anthropocene, grief and anger closed like a hand around my throat. I thought of it because Marie Curie is a perfect allegory for our civilization, because we are brilliant and beautiful, curious and endlessly inventive, willingly blind and willfully denying to the end our wounds, “denying [our] wounds came from the same source as [our] power."
POWER by Adrienne Rich
Living in the earth-depositis of our history
Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate
Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
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