Dear Poetry Professor,
When you cut me off today and tried to skip my turn to share my poetic art piece, it fucking hurt. You perceived a slight from reactive pride, and in trying to protect yourself overreached and slighted me. “Of course you brought a stick,” yes, indeed, and you couldn’t appreciate the beauty and significance of a simple stick, yet you were like an overeager mother fawning over the other students’ cardboard art projects. You realize these are just artificially reconstituted versions of the stick I brought in? And you “want to see something someone actually put some time and energy into.” That’s another fallacy, that whatever requires more effort inherently has more worth. We think that human striving far surpasses Nature’s unfolding.
In fact, I’d say that’s the problem with our entire agricultural system if not our society itself: doing shit just to produce things that we value but have no basis in the health and ultimate happiness of ourselves or the planet. We produce so much food, so many mechanistically wrought calories from the Earth, yet we waste around a third of all the food we produce in America. Yet we see the problem only in terms of not producing enough, which is a convenient perspective for the companies who make our lives so convenient that we don’t raise a finger to change the status quo. Earlier tonight on campus, I saw a massive amount of food go to waste, probably enough to feed over 20 people. An entire Thanksgiving potluck dinner was left sitting in the staff room of the gym for half a day, which one student employee told me would likely “be disposed of by the cleaning people.” And our own class’s potluck dinner celebrating the end of the semester with the vegetables harvested from the on campus garden ended with a large surplus of food that no one was willing to take home with them. The kale was almost thrown out until someone asked about its whereabouts and another person pulled a bag of it out of the trash bin. This kale was aggressively harvested last week from the garden, virtually stripping the annual plants naked and turning them into bare stalks in the earth. Here’s another fallacy: that because we planted it and its in our garden, then not using it all while we’re still around means putting it to waste. Kale can grow for several more months in Florida’s climate, and in no way is it necessary to kill the plants just because we want to make sure we reap every last bit of green that we’ve sowed. Ultimately, we overharvested the kale (which hardly anyone ate, besides a couple kale chips) and patted ourselves on the back for learning so much about gardening and earth stewardship. I stood up in class as we all reflected on the semester and spoke my truth, however vulnerable it made me feel in the moment: when we plant something, we’ve started a new life that we must be there to nourish and take care of. If I hadn’t been watering the garden the entire semester, then most of the plants would’ve died or been desiccated yellow versions of themselves. So the pride that our class exuded felt a bit hollow to me. No one actually stepped up to actively engage with the garden and care for it. We only planted and harvested, with the soil acting as a strenuously heaped together but necessary manufacturing medium for kale chips.
The Earth needs us now more than ever. Each and every one of us that chooses to be conscious of the ramifications of their actions, of throwing food away rather than at least refrigerating or composting it, slightly shifts the overwhelmingly destructive torrent of activity of our society. It may have always been taken for granted that you eat three meals a day (or whatever a modern person does) and that those ingredients are produced in some far-off place by machines because that’s the most efficient way to feed the country and planet. Now, I could start talking about waking up to the whole food system and reclaiming your autonomy by starting a garden (plant some shit!…and take care of it!) but I’d rather share this poem that my poetry teacher rejected off-hand simply because I brought in a lousy stick from the ground.
Bonus pics: Arboretum berries, Marvin the Martian the bean devourer, strange flower looking at me curiously