Sunday, May 23, 2010

Petroleum Prosody: 'What the Ants Are Saying'

Today's Sunday Pensacola News Journal's feature editorial about BP's endless oil spill (click left to read) is unusual for a newspaper in many respects. It's heavy with irony. The despair runs deep. The blame it spreads is all-encompassing. Little is mentioned that would offer so much as a single ray of hope.

Also unusually, the editorial was written in free verse. It's an inspired idea for the scale of the oil disaster we are facing. Free verse also is a style, as we have no doubt the PNJ editorial board is aware, which an early Twentieth Century cockroach pioneered a century ago.

We're thinking of archy the cockroach and the free verse reports he frequently composed late at night in the empty newspaper office by jumping up and down on the lowercase keys of Don Marquis' typewriter. Marquis would then simply reprint the cockroach's message the next day. Many were later collected in and republished in book form.

We keep several of Marquis' volumes by our bedside just for times like these. In one of those books, "archy does his part," the cockroach files a report on "what the ants are saying" that sounds a lot like today's darkly despairing free verse PNJ editorial:

dear boss i was talking with an ant
the other day
and he handed me a lot of
gossip which ants the world around
are chewing over among themselves

i pass it on to you
in the hope that you may relay it to other
human beings and hurt their feelings with it
no insect likes human beings
and if you think you can see why
the only reason i tolerate you is because
you seem less human to me than most of them
here is what the ants are saying

it wont be long now it wont be long
man is making deserts of the earth
it wont be long now
before man will have used it up
so that nothing but ants
and centipedes and scorpions
can find a living on it
man has oppressed us for a million years
but he goes on steadily
cutting the ground from under
his own feet making deserts deserts deserts

we ants remember
and have it all recorded
in our tribal lore
when gobi was a paradise
swarming with men and rich
in human prosperity
it is a desert now and the home
of scorpions ants and centipedes

what man calls civilization
always results in deserts
man is never on the square
he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth
each generation wastes a little more
of the future with greed and lust for riches

north africa was once a garden spot
and then came carthage and rome
and despoiled the storehouse
and now you have sahara
sahara ants and centipedes

toltecs and aztecs had a mighty
civilization on this continent
but they robbed the soil and wasted nature
and now you have deserts scorpions ants and centipedes
and the deserts of the near east
followed egypt and babylon and assyria
and persia and rome and the turk
the ant is the inheritor of tamerlane
and the scorpion succeeds the caesars

america was once a paradise
of timberland and stream
but it is dying because of the greed
and money lust of a thousand little kings
who slashed the timber all to hell
and would not be controlled
and changed the climate
and stole the rainfall from posterity
and it wont be long now
it wont be long
till everything is desert
from the alleghenies to the rockies
the deserts are coming
the deserts are spreading
the springs and streams are drying up
one day the mississippi itself
will be a bed of sand
ants and scorpions and centipedes
shall inherit the earth

men talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait and the scorpions wait
for while men talk they are making deserts all the time
getting the world ready for the conquering ant
drought and erosion and desert
because men cannot learn

rainfall passing off in flood and freshet
and carrying good soil with it
because there are no longer forests
to withhold the water in the
billion meticulations of the roots

it wont be long now It won't be long
till earth is barren as the moon
and sapless as a mumbled bone

dear boss i relay this information
without any fear that humanity
will take warning and reform


Could it be that one of Archy's descendants is living in Pensacola and hanging out at the PNJ?

1 comment: said...

It won't have effect in actual fact, that's what I suppose.