John Kenneth Galbraith, were he here and breathing, would probably be biting his nails with worry. This week we learned that the economy contracted for the first time since 2009. In words reminiscent of what was said in the midst of the Great Depression, economic commentators have said it’s just a one off event in our ongoing recovery. Meanwhile, they crow about another 157,000 jobs added, ignoring that only 58% of the people in this country are employed. A year ago that rate was 57.9%. Clearly, it’s time for austerity.
Anyhow, here’s my poem this week, which as it happens I wrote back in 2009. It’s prose.
Meditation on the Economy
A crystalline calm is upon the ocean. The washed azure sky, without even the blemish of a cloud, speaks in the most fragile whispers about the proximity of beauty and death. The emerald water swallows with greedy equanimity both the heavy and light. The sun stretches down amber rays diffusing through the teeming life, down to fathomless twilight. Somewhere, black and unknowable is the bottom. Deeper and more quiet than the blackest dream, the ship is sinking. Strange sounds resonate from the hull, air trying to push its way out, the wood groaning in protest. Large pockets rise to the surface and burp erratically as the wreck shifts in the rolling currents of its descent.
It had gone quickly at the beginning. The weakness so long in atrophy relented to its fated failure in a crack of thunder. Instantaneously, the sea rushed gurgling and hungry into the lower compartments, sucking the ship down. At first, the air had freed itself in a multitude of voices, whistles, sighs, and whooshes. It was a song of physics and chaos.
Now, an eternity of moments and ten minutes later, only the stern remains above water, pointing accusingly skyward. The ship is sinking, slowly and remorselessly, a death that shudders nearer with each successive belch. The sinking is slower now but no less certain. In a panic that is so blind it is also silent, the crew and passengers are mostly frozen in denial. They cling to the idea it has stopped, that they can bob above the waves until the rescuers arrive. In reality, no aid is coming.
There aren’t lifeboats enough, and the self-important are claiming first right. These are the men in fine clothing and uniform; the captains of industry, the shipwrights, and the crewmen. Behold their fear, the dawning realization in their eyes that they aren’t in control. Their reasoning is that they will be better able to get and send help to those left behind. Sure, they were the ones that had brought them to this pass, so, too, they must be the ones who can find the way back. They offer this reasoning to the others in blue gel- cap cyanide placebos. They are saying ‘god bless you,’ and there are even tears in some of their eyes as they push off. They reason and excuse themselves from guilt. Cowardice, for naught.
The clarity of the ocean air, the sharpness of the light arcing through it, and the magical colors that they elicit; these perfections are not to be denied their finality. The falling inertia of the ship will draw the lifeboats down just as surely as the planet’s gravity draws the ship to its doom. It shall be a shared oblivion. The perfection; the fragile secret spoken by the breeze of beauty and death; no one is to speak of them.