28
Jun
08

literary profundities

The many dictionaries of quotations keep mum on the subject of garbage altogether. They contain no high-flown thoughts on leftovers, no ecstasies on rubbish dumps, no meditations on our trash. The poets are considerably less squeamish than the quotation-mongers, however. A.R. Ammons wrote a long and intricate poem on mortality (I think) called Garbage, in which he proposes that “garbage has to be the poem of our time because / garbage is spiritual, believable enough / to get our attention, getting in the way, piling / up, stinking, turning brooks brownish and creamy white.”

Ivan Klima wrote a novel called (in English) Love and Garbage, which tells the story of a streetsweeper- poet haunted by the conviction that everything endures forever, including the things we wish away (such as garbage, political inconveniences, a wife). “Rubbish is transformed into new rubbish,” he writes apocalyptically, “only slightly increased in quantity. … the spirit of dead things rises over the earth and over the waters, and its breath forebodes evil.”

And here is Robert Hass, on the ethics of raccoon-composting (section 2 of “In Weather” from his first collection, Field Guide):

I can’t decide

about my garbage and the creatures

who come at night to root

and scatter it. I could lock it

in the shed, but I imagine

wet noses, bodies grown alert

to the smells of warm decay

in the cold air. It seems a small thing

to share what I don’t want,

but winter mornings the white yard

blossoms grapefruit peels,

tin cans, plastic bags,

the russet cores of apples.

The refuse of my life

surrounds me and the sense of waste

in the dreary gathering of it

compels me all the more

to labor for the creatures

who quiver and are quick-eyed

and bang the cans at night

and are not grateful. The other morning,

waking early in the new sun,

I was rewarded. A thaw turned up

the lobster shells from Christmas eve.

They rotted in the yard

and standing in the muddy field I caught,

as if across great distances,

a faint rank fragrance of the sea.

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