GENERATION SMARTPHONE

by Silke Müller

When talking about climate change in class, we soon realized that no matter how much knowledge we acquire about this subject, there will not be any considerable changes. Change will start happening when people start acting. Even though a small part of the world has done so, the majority is still ignoring the issue of climate change. I decided to write the following poem in order to shine light on this situation.

 

We used to be creatures in the dark,

lighting our world with a single spark.

It gave us warmth, it kept us alive.

It was the reason we were able to survive.

 

That spark was the beginning of life as we know it,

developing each day and learning bit by bit.

We started domesticating nature all around,

invented the devil, called it dollar or pound.

 

Fast forward: we’re living in big cities.

Eyes glued to our phones, laughing at pictures of cute little kitties.

Rushing through life without ever stopping to take a breath,

relying on computers to take care of the rest.

 

Your Instagram account is more important than a tree,

the first thing you ask: Is the WiFi free?

They call it intelligence, progress maybe,

but I believe it’s getting worse with every baby.

 

Our children won’t ever see the sky,

in just a few years and I don’t get why.

They are born and raised in plastic.

The effects of a childhood spent online will be drastic.

 

Nature is not considered sacred anymore.

We just turn our head, walk on and close the door.

Everyone knows we’re destroying our earth,

it’s a fact we have known since the day of our birth.

 

Yet no one is willing to make a sacrifice

and let go of the luxury we’ve come to expect in our life.

It’s a shame that everyone’s just standing by,

while we’re watching our planet slowly die.

 

“It doesn’t concern us,” most will say.

“We’ll be long gone, come that day.”

But think of your children, who will one day say:

“Mom, it’s not our fault. Why do we have to pay?”

 

You walk around with your eyes fixed on the screen,

while beside you nature tries to impress with its green.

It could be the prettiest bird of them all,

but you won’t see it, until someone posts a picture of it on your wall.

 

You’re always looking for the latest trends,

to try and keep up with the people you call friends.

You call yourself normal, same as everyone else.

Never stop to consider that there might be something wrong with yourself.

 

We’re flying high, high and proud,

but who’s going to catch us when we fall through the cloud?

The cloud we created to protect our mind.

The fear of tomorrow made us decide to stay blind.

 

It’s easier to pretend that we still have it all,

escaping into a world where we no longer feel small.

A world without limits, a world without war.

It seems to be endless: one click and there’s more.

 

But reality is way more complex than fantasy.

There is no button no skip catastrophe.

We have to start acting to save this world in time.

This world full of beauty is our responsibility: yours and mine.

Probably the Last Chance for a Greater Sense of Togetherness. A Self-Interview

Mirko Bonné

Directing this question at the mirror, even if just the mirror of language, I work out that it’s been more than fifteen months now that you’ve been one of the five authors working on the Weather Stations project. Has the way you see the world changed after having been a weather station yourself?

Every morning, the first time I look out of the window I take in the weather, the sky, the clouds and trees, the trees that enable us to read the wind. A year and a half ago, reports about a tornado in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern would have surprised me, but I certainly wouldn’t have made the connection with my profession and noted down the things that the mayor of Nützow said, things, by the way, that I also heard expressed in very similar fashion in regions of Australia, where they’ve been living with extreme weather for decades now.

The Weather Stations project is about raising awareness. Something which must be pretty much old hat for you, no?

 

Climate change is of course a good match for today’s world. No one actually attends to anything that can’t be understood or consumed. The only thing that counts is what’s useful – and preferably to oneself. During my adolescence in the Kohl era, we still used to offer dogged opposition, happy to have something to rebel against in the form of the throwaway society, but we didn’t guess at the time that we in our morally flawless manner were taking part just as diligently in establishing the throwaway world in which we live today. It goes without saying that writers are concerned with raising awareness. But they shouldn’t allow themselves to be yoked to a particular cause, not even one such as this. Writers have to keep hold of the reins themselves and not allow themselves to be led too much, the best balance is somewhere between horse and driver. As far as I’m concerned, climate change is a linguistic problem, as for me it’s all about examining the possibilities of how it can be represented and communicated in literary terms. The Weather Stations project has taken me to linguistic fields into which I would never otherwise have ventured. I sat at Chowder Bay in Sidney with two oceanographers who explained to me what it’s like to dive in a forest of seaweed and algae.

 

Are writers able to contribute to making the complex, manifold demands exacted on today’s world by so-called climate change and its consequences more transparent – would you agree that that’s what it’s about?

 

Over the course of the project, I’ve realised – and have been very surprised by – just how much everything depends on the individual here. I would even say that climate change isn’t a problem for humanity, but rather affects each person individually. Whether in Dublin, London, Melbourne, Potsdam or Sidney, I was able to observe the same thing everywhere in the faces of the oceanographers, cloud researchers and meteorologists we talked to: their frequent astonishment at sitting across from people for whom language actually means something fundamentally different.

 

For a writer and a poet in particular, it’s difficult to talk about language and writing in purely abstract, fundamental terms. Was the Weather Stations project restrictive to this end?

 

There’s no reason to relinquish a sense of productive doubt just because the problem in question seems so very urgent. It would be absurd to have to disregard the demands, dismissals and doubts that poetic minds have attempted to communicate for centuries as soon as the focus is on seemingly unambiguous conflicts that can only be determined for sure via science.

 

You’ve said in various panel discussions that you believe the debate surrounding climate change revolves around a conflict either not recognised as such or concealed.

 

The conflict is far-reaching and can hardly even be expressed in worlds. I regard the consequences wrought by climate change as the expressions of a world attempting to put its human inhabitants in their place. It is a dialogue that has gone off the rails, an ancient conflict that is now escalating. Humankind against nature – and vice versa. This is likely the root cause for the fear many people have of engaging with the subject to any real extent. Yet I equally believe that it is first and foremost the linguistic side of things that is important in this debate.

Because you’re a writer rather than a computer or speaker. Could you maybe formulate your approach in more detail?

 

I try to avoid every theory. John Keats said that every philosophical axiom must be proved on our pulse. And Günter Eich was of the opinion that writing means seeing the world as language. Communicating the dramatic nature of climate change – I actually prefer to say climate destruction – is to my mind also a problem of precision. Science claims to operate based on the most precise language possible. For me, as a poet, on the other hand, language is far more than just a vehicle for data or a semantic tool. It is a sensual, tangible, historical medium, that is, a narrative one. It is itself the communicator. And it is always also a monster fully capable of being manipulated. I can never hear or read the word “total” without thinking of the criminal demagoguery of someone like Goebbels. For me, language is no more or less an instrument than magic is. In my eyes, it’s the connective tissue necessary for life, that which connects me to everything and everyone else, linking our world of today with the past world of the dead and the future one of our as yet unborn grandchildren. Language is the only parallel world whose existence I do not deny. The wonderful quotidian poetry of so many of the texts written by my Melbourne Weather Stations colleague Tony Birch talks about precisely this again and again: What does my life, the life of people today, have to do with the stories of people from the past, who still knew how to read the land and didn’t have to cover everything in concrete and destroy it out of pure fear and insecurity?

 

What experience was the most important for you in these months as a weather station?

 

The best moments were always when people started talking. Past weather and the weather of today. The sort of weather described by my grandfather, the sort of weather we used to have when I was still a girl. A student in Tallaght near Dublin told me how he saw his grandparents’ house being washed away when the heavy storms hit Ireland in summer 2014. It was really moving to visit the Yarra valley south of Melbourne and to speak to people about the bushfires that destroyed entire stretches of land there. In those months, it became very vivid to me how much people love their lives and their stories. I think that’s also something we have a form of language to thank for which aims at vagueness rather than precision. That’s why I think that climate change represents a chance, probably the last chance for a greater sense of togetherness.

Nothing Other Than Grass

Mirko Bonné, September 2015

Since June 2012, I’ve been keeping an online notebook, a poetic blog in which I combine everyday impressions and those from my various trips with comments about what I’ve been reading and ideas for texts and poems. Since the start of the Weather Stations project in February 2014, my entries have changed: weather observations have become more numerous, as well as remarks about politics, the climate and the environment. I’ve written down many quotes from the books and magazines I’ve read over the last one and a half years because they seemed to be making some sort of contribution to the climate change debate, in particular those sentences or verses written 20 or even 200 years ago. The overriding question raised by the following selections from my blog “The Grass” is however aimed at the poetic, that is, the part of language and the world that I see as living heritage and that does not seek answers and solutions, but is rather intrinsic to both, both question and solution.

 

 

Yesterday and today, I looked at a squirrel, in two arboreta far apart. Both were looking for something, both brown, yet the one from today had a grey chest and stomach. The one from yesterday scuttled away, its legs far apart, like a rabbit with a big tail, while the one from today was swifter, perhaps akin to a bird, leaping from the bush on to the tree. What knocking and gnawing sounds they made! The alert, yet still seemingly pensive way they looked around them. The way they appeared so suddenly, like a squirrel materialising from the ether, then how they stayed for such a surprisingly long time before disappearing equally suddenly, like squirrels gone without warning. The beautiful red-brown: trees on to which the evening sun falls. (17.2.2014)

 

Summer in March. A summery March, a March summer: “When the forsythias bloom, winter is gone.”

 

Watch out! Roof avalanches! Between Untereinöden and Überruh, maybe also near Oberholzleute, just past the Spitalhof: snow on the side of a valley in Oberallgäu. And the snow poles are still stuck like toothpicks in the roads that lead up the valley to the tidy farmsteads. We’re prepared for any eventuality here. (Isny, 6.4.)

In the morning, the child says he couldn’t sleep, as the window was open. “All the birds flew back and talked and made loud music in the hedges that grow up alongside the house.”

 

A young American author living in Australia and writing a novel about Atlantis said to me at Melbourne Art’s House, the old Meat Market, that it’s only tales, stories of experiences and individual people’s ideas that enable her to grasp something so inconceivable as climate change. Some time ago, she met a taxi driver in Mississippi who told her that she was putting aside as much money as possible in order to move to Florida with her family. She and her husband planned to buy a house on the beach for them and their children so that they would be among the first to be washed out to sea by the great flood, all the way to Atlantis.

Nocturnal gusts of wind in the courtyard, they pass over the dunes and strike the palms. An invisible bird answers each gust with a loud wailing cry that is joyous nonetheless. (Port Douglas, 4.5.)

Clouds that stay still for hours above the Coral Sea. They carry slowness in their very form and are bordered by black and white. If you pass beneath then, they do not conceal their volume. Each is, as Dylan Thomas once said of radio, “a building in the air”.

A green sea turtle in the waters of the reef, nearly the same size as me, yet with the eyes of God. Does it know I’m observing it?

The skin of many Australian women is as red as the earth, reddened by the blazing force of the sun.

 

104-year-old Lizzie Davies of the Coranderrk people was asked how she predicts rain. Lizzie Davis replied: “I touch the mountains”.

The bricklayers’ laughter can be heard in the courtyard, as they stand around in the open garage below, smoking and looking at the sky, where there’s a mid-May hailstorm. Minutes later, the warm sun shines once again and swallows swoop though its light in great arcs. The English, the Australian of the past weeks is still in my mind, I still dream and speak to myself in the foreign language – I think Burundjeri, Brunswick Street and Yarra River to myself on the bank of the Danube. It’s like something is melting away inside me, like the snow left behind in a forest glade. (Ingolstadt, 13.5.)

When I took the umbrella out of my suitcase, it seemed damp and when I opened it out to dry, it was full of drops that had travelled across the world: Australian rain.

 

This question is also of key significance in the climate change debate: how can you make something real (once again) that seems unreal? The question is how to bridge the gap. You assume that they, “the people” want reality. But is that really the case? (18.5.)

Up on the roof of their tower, the meteorologists measure how much sunlight there is on each and every day. A narrow strip of black card with an hourly scale within a semicircular housing is concealed behind a glass sphere that focuses the sun’s rays and directs them on to the strip. When I look at the scale, I see a tiny sun glowing yellow there that has been eating its way through the card since 6am this morning. I see how time passes, time made of light, the illumination of time.

The beauty of the orchard: the dark and light greens, the trees and the grass, the free interplay of the two.

 

A roaring heat. Flies on the window sill, gleaming motionless, dying motionless. The people moving slowly. Haze over the Burggasse. (Vienna, 11.6.)

 

When you run your fingers through the fronds of the Persian silk tree above you in the bright green light, it’s like you’re stroking an animal that’s standing upright in the wind and is compelled to be a tree. The silk tree’s fronds tell of their sex, of the house of the silk tree, of its history stories. (Ellerhoop Arboretum, 5.7.)

 

“There are also seagulls that bite”, says the child.

 

You’re alone with this silence and in it, you encounter yourself as a child once again, the boy that marvels here at the joy of the world for the first time.

 

In spring, travelling beekeepers trek over the island of Fehmarn and put up hives in the blooming rape fields. Intoxicated by the abundance of yellow, the bees collect nothing but rape nectar for weeks, pure rape honey.

 

Of Bojendorf at the northwestern tip of Fehmarn, they say that the boys from the village used to capture the sun every evening and imprison it in a barn overnight. (Fehmarn, 24.7.)

 

The row of plum trees between the S-Bahn tracks – I look into the summer light that remains and I’m close to tears. How long have they been there already? They are still here!

 

The shelf life of a plastic fishing line: 600 years.

 

The wind in the treetops does indeed tell a story but not about itself. It tells you about yourself.

 

After the animal captures and kills a young wren in the early morning, it crawls into a dark, silent corner for six hours, dejected. Then it comes out again, examines the scene of the crime and looks out of the window for a long time at where the bird appeared and will maybe appear again. The animal is ready to forget, ready to repeat. Life continues, killing continues, death continues.

 

In Kalathos, I saw an olive tree growing up through a red Toyota.

There are only dried-up riverbeds across the whole island – or have the rivers just dried out and silted up? There’s red rowing boat half in pieces right in the middle of the Loutan’s pebbled hollows. (Rhodos, 17.10.)

 

The sound of the wind moving into the dried out leaves of the plane tree, a papery rustling or rather a rattling, a cracking. It’s almost like a fire, a fire made of air. (Akra Ladiko, 19.10.)

“Be the rain.” Neil Young

 

You open the door and it’s autumn. (You shut your eyes and summer is there).

 

It’s not the world that is ungrateful, it is I.

 

Sitting by the Salzach on a November day so warm I can’t remember another like it: a warm November wind, the suburbs enveloped in the warm autumn breeze, the mountainside is yellow, green, golden and brown in the mild pulsations of the air. The birds flutter upwards over the river and women sit on its banks and eat up the light from bright bags. (Salzburg, 4.11.)

November 19th and there are still mosquitoes and wasps.

 

Every speck, every handkerchief-sized piece of lawn, every piece of soil, as long as it’s just brown or green, must be covered with tarmac so we can then put concrete on top of it. While every other encounter, be it love, friendship or some other form of affection, is an interstellar event.

 

The entire pain, the entire hatred, the entire fear, the entire greed. The entire destruction and annihilation in the name of this God or that. I bow down before anyone who can keep their mouth shut in a conversation about so-called faith. You can only rely on the empty sky, that is full of birds, full of clouds and air to breathe. (January 7th 2015, Paris)

 

A swarm of starlings flies up into the sky as if a storm had blown apart the top of a huge tree, the birds bursting away across the grey January sky.

 

As Camus quite rightly remarked, the weather is what every single person experiences and what connects us all. It’s just that everyone experiences it differently (like everything else too). My brother once confided in me how much he loved running through the snowy forest, because “your footsteps then turn silent”. How difficult it is, to tell of your feelings about the weather, your different feelings and the feelings of yours that differ from one another!

 

In the driving snow, the swiftly fleeing birds are like snowflakes.

 

“The tree may become a blossoming flame, man a speaking flame—an animal a walking flame.” Novalis

 

“Why is rain not blue if it falls from the sky?” Sylvain Tesson

A barge travels downstream along the Main river, passing under the Holbeinsteg bridge. It’s a winter day, ice-cold, windy, but without snow. It’s only the boat that’s covered with a thick layer of white snow from elsewhere, shaped into rib forms by the wind.

 

In the morning, a tremendous light shines over the green hills. It’s dawn in Ireland and the seagulls sail within it above the deserted car park in front of the huge, still entirely empty Tesco shopping centre “The Square”. (Tallaght, 27.2)

 

The green parakeets are free in the park’s bare treetops, like leaves, a May in flight, trying out places to hold on to. (London, Hyde Park, 16.3.)

Those who make use of the good weather – whom and what do they otherwise make use of?

Beneath the arch of the bridge – a lively green flickering on the masonry, a whirring, a meadow of light on an afternoon just for ghosts that want to stay.

 

Forty-five million “unusable” male chicken chicks are shredded each year in Germany in plants set up specifically for the purpose of destroying birds – dead wood that is alive. I live in a factory of death – a state in which killing is not a past phenomenon, a state which may pretend to be a socially minded, but in reality subordinates everything to profit and efficiency. The CSU minister responsible for this godless, ruthless mass slaughter rejects any criticism of the procedure, making reference to research that is already working on more effective killing methods.

 

It’s the fourth of April, and it’s still cold as winter, cold enough for a winter coat. The trees are bare, the bushes pale-green, full of timid buds. You feel startled when the warm spring sun suddenly falls from the cloudless blue. In the afternoon, it shines for a long time, golden, stretching out the spirit, making your eyes widen and recognise what is beloved in everything and everyone standing around in the car park: children, women, men, dogs, trees, old cars, people who laugh in the bright light. Then there’s a twinkling that flashes through the light, blue and gold. The fourth of April? It’s snowing.

 

As the budding, sprouting and blooming grows quicker each day (and each night), so too does the river become greener with every hour that passes.

 

You can chat to any blackbird at the top of a tree – as long as you have the time and the inclination to do so and a bit of blackbird patience.

 

On this small island in the Elbe, every bit of undergrowth seems unique in its form, with an unmistakable shadow, a specific rustling sound when the wind passes over the river, strange blackbirds in its branches. An amazing bush – as if it were itself an island. (Lühesand, 7.6.)

 

“The people were addicted to hope and blind from it too, that was their fate.” Gerhard Roth

 

Hot days, close to 40 degrees. In the stairwell, the wood creaks at every step. It seems to want to shout at the top of its voice of hot summer days and weeks in the past, of days free from school due to the heat, of children who sat in the cool shade of the stairwell. But the wood of the dead years is just creaking. (3.7.)

 

The people sit on the steps in front of their shops and wait for the rain to come. And when it starts, as it soon pelts down, they remain seated. To live so much more frequently! (Fuhlsbüttel, 7.7.)

 

A rainy day in Jutland. Everything seems slower in a warm wind, even the huge sea gulls over the pillboxes half submerged in the sand.

 

“At one point, the world looked like this”, says the child and shows you it: “there was nothing, nothing other than grass”.

Sun and Water

A renga in 16 stanzas
Written by the students of
the Weather Substation at the Romain Rolland Gymnasium
Berlin-Reinickendorf, July 2nd, 2015

The sun rises.
Its rays illuminate the whole valley.
The river flows downstream.
I allow the melody of the water
To carry me with it.

The morning sun
Shines on a green leaf
That floats on the water.
A small ant sits upon it
Making the journey downstream alone.

The days are grey.
They become ever brighter.
The sun is dazzling.
The waves break,
Break on the white beach.

The sun gives off light,
Glittering on the surface of the sea
Like a sky full of stars,
The rays shine
And illuminate all they touch.

Light shines on the sea,
Creating so many shades of blue.
The waves murmur.
The heat quickly spreads
And the days grow longer.

The smell of the sea,
Weak, yet still present,
Is carried by the wind,
Decorated by the songs
Of all its animal inhabitants.

The sea’s waves
Quietly gurgle
Against the coastline.
The surface of the sea glitters,
Mesmerised by the sun.

Heat, what now?
A mouth dried out.
One drop of water.
Desert sands and great heat,
But no water to come to the rescue.

Quiet, yet loud too,
The waves rush to the cliff.
A roaring sound, even as
It still feels peaceful.
Sun, summer by the sea.

Glittering beauty,
In the glow of the late sun.
As far as the eye can see,
the ocean lies calm.
But it can be so very different too.

An irascible wind
Sweeps through quiet spaces,
Turning the world on its head.
And how do I find myself there?
Changed, with fresh courage!

Reflected in the water,
It now sparkles and shines.
I grow wetter.
The heat is oppressively warm.
A night at sea begins.

Outside in the garden,
Leaves wilt in the fountain.
I see the sun
Going down in the distance.
The night completes the day.

She leaps into the cold,
Eye closed, tightly shut.
Her hair shimmers.
It will be dark in no time at all,
For the sun is setting.

The sun rises
And the lake is a mirror
To reflect it, the sun.
The lake sees the sun as blue
And the sun the lake as yellow.

The sun as a motor,
the heart of this world.
With water as the blood,
That keeps it alive.
Without both, there is nothing.

The Incomprehensible Sky

Weather Observations

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
John Keats

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April
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Apr
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A
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April 2
After a surprisingly cool day, first misty and damp, then dry and windy, the warmth has returned: this premature, blissful March-summer, now April-summer. A few, dark-blue-shaded clouds like slow fish in the sky’s pale blue aquarium. Still a wide-open field of vision; the trees are budding, but still leafless, hesitant, unable to believe in the warmth or keep pace with it so soon, so quickly. Pre-spring cold in the mornings, middays like May, June in the afternoon. And then the piercing cool of evening, bringing a shiver and chasing the birds into their hiding places. And so it lives on – the first mosquito, cheery, curious little lightning bolt.

*

April 3
A conversation on the bus, people in t-shirts, shirtsleeves, blouses, summer dresses: “What beautiful days. But I can’t really enjoy them, I always think: it’s the climate change. And sometimes…” the girl laughs, “… oh, such a nice climate change.” When I got out, the pungent smell of summery soil hit me like a blow. I walk home each day along lush green hedges, an eastern breeze in my face, beneath a cloudless sky. Rosy refulgence in the early evening. The inward Australia begins. In three weeks I’ll be in Melbourne. Words of encouragement from my friends, the light alone means I shouldn’t worry.

*

April 4
All at once, overnight, it’s what we’re used to in Hamburg: cool, grey April, the cruelest month, with spring already piercing you, suddenly fat drops, heavy rain, a Starnbergersee coming down, drumming for hours, and though unperturbed, with sun inside me after those sunny weeks, I got sunshine in my stomach, I am surprised, no, constantly unsettled, for the meteorologists predicted quite a different kind of weather that fails to come, that I would have liked to experience: a warm south wind, carrying fine sand from the Sahara and making the sky shimmer yellow. The weather forecast is a narrative, less speculative than it is fictitious, uncertain and unsupportable, for that very reason feigning certainty and seeking, groping for support. Support that does not exist.

*

April 5
Thirty hours of rain have made of the timid budding and splitting a universal, manifold teeming green. The birds, I always suspected it, are actually fishes, the titmice trout, the blackbirds bream, the sparrows sprats. They all want to act sensibly, but fortunately fail, darting through the damp air. And the dried-out ground sucks up the water noisily. How lovely. The sky sends cloud after cloud as I send word after word. “Thin land, holding its balance and / sustaining the sustaining water, the birds / are light, after all. / The levee leads into the rain hall”, writes Nicolas Born.

*

April 7
In the Oberallgäu grimy remnants of snow on the mountain slopes like stunted glaciers, and in the distance the white Alps gleam through a day without a cloud far and wide. – Buttercup, cowslip, dandelion meadows, a green that’s already much lusher, more luscious. In Augsburg, too, it’s apparently summer already, street life in full swing, but when and where wouldn’t that be the case? The crowns of the trees on the town moat are pale green, light, nearly transparent (Immenstadt, Augsburg)

*

April 8
The predicted cold snap – the temperature was supposed to fall by as much as ten degrees – has failed to come, or it has come in a milder form. Why were they unable to anticipate this? Are they working with data that no longer have any grounding? Grounding on what? No doubt they have some precise explanation for their near-miss-rate. The rain, at night, with a strong wind rising, shouldn’t even exist; from an overcast sky blows a bafflingly warm wind. “If the sky’s grey, it ought to rain,” says the taxi driver, “that doesn’t bother anyone”, and a passing child: “It’s so warm, I’m sweating my head off”. (Augsburg)

*

April 9
North wind over the Kinzig Valley, all day a great spectacle of clouds fills the sky. Bellied, jagged, hunchbacked sallow white clouds high above, and streaming along beneath them a deep black cloud mass, flat on the bottom, often looming like a tower into the blue. No doubt science has names to sort them, categorize them, render them identifiable and classify them as harmless, useful, whatever. Perhaps stratocumulus clouds. Unpredictable and fleeting like the essence of poetry, like every essence. Poems could be calls clouds, “Stratocumulus Clouds” could be the title of each collection. Cloud horses. Toward evening the sun sends blazing light through all the holes and chinks in all the water vapor, all the nothingness. (Offenburg) Photo: Juliette Aubert

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April 11
“That’s the Burgundy Gate”, the beekeeper, a retired town schoolteacher, tells me, meaning the source of the warm day, the radiant light over the Markgräfler Land. “That narrow passage between the Swiss Jura and the Vosges – it lets the Spanish wind through.” With the light föhn wind blowing, I can see the peak of the Säntis in the distance. Two days of benign light sky blue. Cirrostratus clouds, fanned out to a striking width, joining together and growing broader and broader as the jet trails cross them. The beekeeper is telling me about the infestation of mites imported along with the Kamchatka bee used for experiments by a biological institute. He tells me of aphids and ants and how the bees heed them – the poetry of meanings in the beekeepers’ lingo. There are no wars, he says, between bee colonies, “but there are fierce raids with far-reaching consequences. This fantastic weather isn’t just good for us; the bees like it too.” (Jestetten)

*

April 13
It was summer deep in the southwest, 23 degrees Celsius as I headed back north, and hour by hour the clouds grew denser, the light murkier, and the temperature dropped. It was 12 degrees in Hamburg, with a drizzle and a cool west wind; the Elbe Valley is an Atlantic Gate, not a Burgundy Gate. A week later spring is far along, the bareness has vanished, blossoming replaced by sprouting leaves. Everything’s gone green. Massive cloud colossi still stream eastwards across the city and the river, clouds like crows, that look loud, but are strangely mute. The forecast speaks of changeable weather, keeping all its options open. That reflects the sky, at any rate; mid-April and everything seems possible. (Baden-Baden – Hamburg)

*

April 16
April’s richness! Sun, wind, the winter cold, the May warmth, buds, chills, wide stillness, chirping nearness. Cloudless nights bring you night frost, you cover the balcony plants back up again, and in the morning bumblebees perch trembling on the pots. In the thin coat of your confidence you walk up shivering into the village, children playing on the streets and fields, and while you wait at the counter in the post office, dark clouds halt above the intersection and burst. The day before yesterday four hailstorms, and a dark-blue and purple evening sky with scattered clouds. In the day time the children play on the monkey bars –and come home with icy hands. “Flux” is what Hopkins, “Zausflaum” what his translator Waterhouse calls these clouds fanned out far and wide. A jet trail crosses them out.

*

April 20
The lilacs are in bloom. The first fieldfare flits through the garden. After a few cooler days with damp, cold air and a piercing west wind, Easter presages a fine May. For the coming week, they predict summery 27 degrees Celsius – which I will no longer experience. Tomorrow I’ll fly via Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, into the South Australian early autumn. In the meadows, in Hamburg’s grass, there’s a green that’s ready for anything. People in the open – open people. The smell of wood smoke from Easter bonfires hangs in the air, and the color of the night wavers between deep blue and violet, almost purple. “Not a child left awake. Not a bird in the sky”, writes Peter Handke in “In a Dark Night I Left My Quiet House”. “But there was a cloud there, a great grey-white heap of cloud, its upper edge multiply humped, drifting slowly to the east, as on a pilgrimage; as though it were pilgrimaging. It could also have been the west, and it could also have been the morning.” What follows that “but” is what weather is in poetry. Onward, off to Australia, I don’t mind!

*

April 21
How many thousands of miles have I flown above the clouds, over Budapest, Bucharest, Ankara, Beirut, Baghdad, Kuwait and Bahrain to Abu Dhabi? I walked barely twenty yards in the open from the gangway to the shuttle bus. In darkness on the runway the jet fuel swam in the 30-degree-Celsius air. (Abu Dhabi)

*

Lima

The flooding of Passau, now unpreventable

– what’s its value at the Climate Summit,

what does it gain us?

Faster even than the Alpine

glaciers melt, we barter droughts

in Australia, California wildfires,

floods in Bangladesh

and the submersion of the isle of Tuvalu

and turn them to profit mass. Global warming,

global business. The sky is green

over Lima on the last day

of the conference, so luminous is the sea,

and the harbor of Ancon is crossed

by murmurations of starlings, at whose sight

one such as Auden would think: we each must love,

no matter whom, or all will die, though Auden,

thinking this too drastic, then wrote instead:

We must love one another and die.

 

For Uli Schreiber

After Flying for a Day and a Half Halfway around the World

By Mirko Bonne April 29, 2014

Tell it to the Bees: Australian Journal 1

The lovely light over Melbourne that first bright morning – as though the world, the whole south, would be nothing but bright blue. I hadn’t yet seen or heard a single bird, but all night long I’d heard the twitter of an air conditioner from the roof of the neighboring apartment building, exactly as though a flock of budgies were roosting there. A sudden loud swell of windmill sails, perhaps a dream, but then a fire siren came racing down the chasms of the streets. After flying for a day and a half halfway around the world – from Abu Dhabi on over Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean, past Perth and Adelaide – it was the most restful sleep I’d had in months. To wake up in such light – to wake up just once like that from the unreality in your life.

And don’t forget: from spring you flew into fall. Where was the summer en route? I grasp this autumnal April only in the Carlton Gardens, where I walk beneath the old sycamores and chestnuts and hear the first strange birds, a crawking and squeaking, an agitated bursting into flight, not a rustling, a rattling, clattering. Fallen leaves are everywhere, but the air is mild, a warm wind, a cirrostratus sky, but with clouds three times the size as those over Hamburg, Frankfurt or Paris. Again and again in these first days in Melbourne I observe vast cloud fields, mostly flooding in from the west over the Yarra River, seeming inconceivably swift, even when the wind barely stirs the treetops. Darkness falls quickly, dusk lasting barely twenty minutes, and the weather is just as quick to change. A cool rainy morning is followed two hours later by a radiant, warm noon; by an afternoon rent by gusts of wind and darkened by towering clouds; by an evening in which, at sunset, three frigate birds circle in the orange sky.

 

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

 

The Integrity of Facts

  By Mirko Bonne November 5, 2014

Tell it to the Bees: Australian Journal 14

Meg, an environmental activist from Greenpeace Australia Pacific in Sydney, speaks about the gap between facts and feeling. To bridge this gulf, she believes, “the integrity of facts” is required from the scientific side, but new ways to convey them must also be found. Narratives and poetry can open doors that remain closed to the language of scientific research, as they do to political slogans and legal jargon.

It has taken decades (one might object), if not centuries, for literary narratives and poetry’s music of meanings to free themselves from the stranglehold of functionalization and instrumentalization.

Leard State ForestBut Meg is not demanding that literature and poetry be pressed into service; at most, she wants them to cease being sheer entertainments. Literatures can tell stories of climate change that reach people, she says, transforming facts and figures, filling them with life, translating them.

Meg is in her mid-fifties, with a weathered face and black outdoor clothing, radiating anger as much as sorrow. She has spent the past several days in prison following protests against the clearance of large parts of the Leard State Forest, an attempt by the Whitehaven coal company to expedite the opening of the Maules Creek mine. Maules Creek is Aborigine Land; the Gomeroi have lived in this forested region for thousands of years. It is home to around four hundred rare and endangered animal and plant species.

Meg believes in the power of stories and in the magic of poetry, and she believes that both make it possible to reach people, because poetry and storytelling are a part of every human culture, no matter where you look.

Meg is the first person in all these meetings, lectures, conversations and tours who does not hesitate to use the word “God”.

She talks about the faith of the inhabitants of Kiribati, a Polynesian island nation in the Pacific, formerly a British colony known as the Gilbert Islands. The anticipated rise in sea level leaves no doubt that the islands, each of them rising just a few yards above the sea, will be flooded. However, the inhabitants refuse to leave their islands, appealing to traditional tales and the Bible to justify their decision. In Kiribati there is no doubt about God’s pronouncement: never again will a flood sweep the earth. And, they say, part of the earth is Kiribati.

Meg tells of Bangladesh. She asked women there what relief supplies they needed the most, and the women of the coastal region requested mobile ovens – ovens they could take with them when fleeing the next flood.

She tells of the Wurundjeri aborigines, about a thousand survivors of expulsions and massacres, half of them living in reservations where they are cut off from their land, the animals and trees, the rivers and their sacred places. Meg tells how the Wurundjeri say: “We won’t die out. We refuse.”

She tells of the Inuit and the sounds of Alaska. The Eskimos’ names for native birds imitate their cries or songs, and for a long time now the Inuit have been discussing what to do with the names when the birds no longer exist.

Lyrebird 1932Meg tells of the Australian lyrebird. It imitates sounds in its environment, and more and more lyrebirds can be heard emitting a strange snapping, clicking and whirring, the sounds of cameras, while others sound like electric hedge clippers.

In the tradition of the Kulin, the lyrebird is the interpreter of the animals. The Kulin believe that all birds once had a common language, before greed and envy drove them apart. Only the lyrebird has continued to aid communication among the now mutually unintelligible animals.

I tell Meg that in Hamburg blackbirds imitate cellphone ring tones, evidently out of confusion.

It might be a confusion that shows a way out, she replies.

Meg is an activist; I am exactly the opposite. I feel thrown through the world, forced into wakefulness, day and night, caught in a restless state between all kinds of worlds, at the mercy of incomprehensible customs and still stranger intoxications, and seeking comfort in the belief that my writing might move someone to keep their eyes open – when in the end all I want to do is sleep, dream, and, in good moments, scribble down memories in a notebook, so that they won’t be lost along with everything else.

Just as she speaks of God in passing, Meg knows where to find those responsible: “The government violates Australia, and will violate the Australians”, she says. “No one is doing anything. We’re surrounded by criminals. We are criminals ourselves.”

Photos: Leard State Forest (1): leardstateforest.com; “Unbelievable Lyrebird”, Ambrose Pratt, 1932 (2)

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

The Island’s Caretaker

By Mirko Bonne February 17, 2015

Tell It to the Bees: Australian Journal 16

SuppenschildkröteMy fear of the sea floor’s rapid drop into the submarine night beyond the reef, of encountering a moray, a fear as old as my thoughts of what could happen if a shark, a spider crab, a school of poisonous jellyfish trailing yard-long strands of burning nettle hooks, a grouper… my fear that panic could seize me in the water is too great for me to go swimming and snorkeling with the rest of the group. I gaze out at the water. I don’t dive, but my eyes dive down.

A pale turquoise sea turtle lollops past. A fish swims by so close to the boat that I freeze in wonder: so big, so bright red, almost perfectly round and striped black. And several pale-brown sharks, not very big, but big enough, circle around, crouching as it were, making a school of fusilier fish part before their flat snouts and whir off in different directions like finches before a buzzard.

After returning to the ship, several snorkelers post the photos they’ve just taken on Facebook or wherever, while I gaze over at Woody Island, a clump of mangroves where access is forbidden, and probably impossible. At least I certainly wouldn’t survive there long, what with my fear of those creatures waiting for God knows what in the salty mud between the tidal trees.

Low IslesOn Low Island there’s a lighthouse that was imported from Scotland in the 19th century – it might even be the work of one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s relatives, who were among Scotland’s leading lighthouse builders.

The island where the Scottish lighthouse stands is so tiny that a ten minutes’ walk takes me past the same seagull standing just as before in the sand, looking at me questioningly.

A museum little larger than a bicycle shed covers the history of Low Island, the first island in the Great Barrier Reef to produce all its electricity solely from the wind and the sun. But then, it has only one inhabitant.

And not always the same one. The island’s caretaker switches every three weeks; the Low Isles Preservation Society LIPS organizes the volunteers. The “Sailaway IV”, a sailing catamaran whose diesel motor is used only near the coast, is taking the past weeks’ caretaker back to Port Douglas: a stocky elderly lady who talks about the cooperation between the LIPS and the local aborigines.

The skipper of the “Sailaway” recalls a caretaker from his boyhood. In 1972 the man took his two sons out to the island in a dinghy to save them from an approaching storm, and none of the three was ever seen again.

The only person shocked by the story is me. After all, Australia is the continent of disappearance, so much so that you have to wonder whether Australia as a whole won’t vanish from the earth someday, just like that.

Everything disappears here. Person after person gets lost in the outback. Whole swathes of land burn. A tornado destroys the sugar cane harvest. A prime minister sinks into a kelp forest. Animal species seem to die out overnight. A river dries up. People clear forests that for thousands of years have housed koalas, and bats that exist hardly anywhere else in the whole endangered batless world.

WallabyEverything belongs to an endangered species, everything is endangered, mangroves, platypuses, dingoes, parrots that now exist only in zoos. Restaurants catering to day-trippers keep pythons in glass cases, and barbed-wire cages house wallabies with eyes so sad that they bring you to your knees. No one knows whether the Tasmanian tiger still exists. They’re looking for it, but decades on, it still hasn’t been found.

Lagoons turn into train stations; droughts devastate a region as large as the great country of Poland. Tasmania’s aborigines were wiped out, except for one woman and one man. And another man, charged with the care of a coral island, rides out onto the sea with his sons in a little motor boat.

He rides and rides and rides and rides and doesn’t even notice that he and the two boys are long dead.

Photos: green turtle (1), lighthouse at Arbroath, Scotland, built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather (2), the Low Isles in the Great Barrier Reef: Woody Island, left, and Low Island, right (3), Wallaby (4)

 

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

The Fig Tree

By Mirko Bonne December 1, 2014

fig tree 1Summer’s rubbish everywhere, plastic splendor on every slope. Tossed away, trodden flat, left lying, forgotten – the packaging of what once was, and is never to return, bottles of all colors, rust-corroded tins, a faded bag, a torn suitcase. Cars abandoned years ago by the roadside, wrecks, half-cannibalized, half-decayed, shat in, besmeared, oil-slicked. You squat, eye caught by something pale on the asphalt, and see a little goddess doll, with just half a head, no more body left, but Aphrodite’s smile on its lips. In the dry grass, layer upon layer, lie the remains of what couldn’t be stuffed into the crevices and niches of these walls whose stones have been used over and over, over and over again. Severed power lines in the trees, a branching of wires. On the beach a tide of toothbrushes, a spume of bags and bottle tops, caps and pens, laces, buttons, and the faded blind eyes of stuffed animals.

fig tree 2On the tiny Greek isle of Symi, just a few sea miles from the Turkish coast, a house stands in the upper town of the fishing harbor, its roof beams, walls and floors prized open by a tree that has claimed, bit by bit, the abandoned masonry. The beautiful dark green fig grows on the junk and trash that is tossed in through the windows – tossed as though into a shaft in which the inevitability of decay merges with emptiness, and time and death fade in the face of sheer life.

Photos: Plastic in the Mediterranean near Rhodes (1), house with fig tree on Symi (2), fig tree in Santa Barbara, California (3)

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole