Yesterday we heard that the first balls of tar had appeared on the shore of Key West, at Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, a place we've often been to swim -- as much as one can swim there, where the waves break steeply after traversing deep water and suddenly hitting a narrow shelf of sand. When Paul told me he'd read this -- that oil had moved into the current that would carry it to the Keys, and probably from thence around the tip of Florida and up the east coast, I had a physical response. A shut-down. A rupture. Entirely silent but something breaking. I've had this feeling, here and on Facebook posts, that people didn't want to read about bad news, and of course who doesn't feel inundated with the horrors of the news -- war and disaster, extinction and corruption and pollution and the endless failure of leadership? We've been hearing it all our lives and it's only gotten worse. But somehow this sense of steeling ourselves against the realities of the world needs to be broken through, or set down for a while, in the face of this moment's gravity. I think Jack Gilbert is right when he says, in an unforgettable poem called "A Brief for the Defense," that
We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
It's true, but conversely it is also the case that something as grave as the murder of the Gulf of Mexico -- and how much ocean on beyond it -- is so overwhelming an instance of"ruthless furnace" that we need to lay the private gladness down, the good sense of being a living body. We need to be willing to weep, to be outraged, and to ask every question we can about our endless, characteristically American sense of powerlessness. BP says it's a minor spill, with minor consequences, and the turtles die, and the Gulf churns black, and in how many days or weeks will the coral reef be dead forever?
And now, on the evening of the 18th, tar balls on the beach in Big Pine Key, where the endangered key deer live. That means the oil is rounding the tip of the Keys already.
Yesterday, May 19, pure crude oil coating the wetlands of southern Louisiana, "as thick as chocolate syrup," sad the CNN reporter. Photos on Huffington Post of a dragonfly and a crab, covered in oil. Everything in the marshes touched by the oil, which include the marshgrass that IS is the marsh, holding the marsh together, will be dead in a week.