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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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!

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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)

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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

Plastic Sea

The thin ribbon of water that flows
down to Hamburg beneath
locusts and ash trees, but mainly
old birches, where ducks live and coots
that dart off mutely, smelling of the swamps
in the quiet old woods of Stormarn and Holstein,
is called the Alster, and is and always was
a river. It was made into two lakes in the middle
of the great Hanseatic city only when Adolf
III returned to the city from the crusade
in the Holy Land and ordered a miller
to dam the stream with mighty dikes
that would have stopped even the Elbe’s
flow. Then a northern sea spread out
amidst the wooden town; all the Holstein waters
of the Wöddelbek, Rönne, Wischbeck and Lankau,
the Sielbek and the Tangstedter Mühlenbach
flowed and could not drain; within weeks
the relentless element, flowing
on and on, grew vaster and
broader, grimly unstoppable,
until first the Outer, then the Inner
Alster (not cut off until much later), became
two lakes, turquoise green today and turquoise
blue tomorrow, and almost always roughened by
the west winds, hemmed by belts of dense reeds and
by now beloved for more than eight hundred years.

Die Alsterseen

So it winds its way, the darkly glittering water-
adder, past bushes and paths, through
the banks’ red-branched thickets. And
is utterly silent. A trickling, a softly purling
whisper is faintly heard when it has wood in its
mouth, stones in its bed, polystyrene panels washed
from a construction site somewhere or a spindly
bramble bush that got in its way and that it
drags along for a time as though
the winter-Alster claimed that
none need die as long as
they can play. It is black and half
a man’s height higher when it floods.
Over Christmas 2014, after weeks of heavy
rain over the Feldmark and the last scraps of
deciduous woods between Kaltenkirchen, Bad
Oldesloe and Duvenstedt, the Alster’s tributaries,
otherwise so idyllic, poured into the river with
unprecedented force and transformed it
within hours into an unpredictable
flood necessitating barricades
of sandbags to protect
the housing estates, and crowds of
rubberneckers were sluiced onto the shifted
shore of the Alster exactly like, as cynics said, flotsam.

Die schwarze Welt

Each black meter of water, rolling past ominously
mute, had the momentum of over three
hundred stacked-up fuel tankers,
by someone’s calculations.
Meadows, playgrounds, riparian
woodlands, the paths and many streets,
as well as bridges, lots, docks, a big shed at
the foot of the railway embankment holding God
knows what long-forgotten junk were
submerged and sank for days
and for weeks. Children
asked whether the water would
stay like this now, so high, so dark, and
so, so bad. Yes, I said to a little girl
with an eye patch, it looks like
it’ll stay like this from
now on. Ah well.
The world is
turning black.
And the neighbor,
arm in arm with his wife,
dog invisible, gazing at a bend in
the Alster where the river used to come
around the curve and fling its gold-brown
glitter at the bank, eyed the nightmarish
immensity of water and said hollowly
that never in his life, since he
sailed boats here as a
schoolboy, had he experienced
the like on the Alster, never had it
happened before, not even in a dream,
in which everything is possible, was it
possible. Too quickly for the darting pupils
to follow, the river rolled under the Fuhlsbütteler
railway bridge southward to the Free and
Hanseatic city. I saw three plastic
canisters and pictured a raft
you could build with them.
High water, said the stunned
neighbor. Floods. They’d always
happened, summer or winter,
in the fall or especially in the spring,
as soon as the snowmelt descended on Stormarn.
But this here, the black water masses, such
a draggled park, never, really, no.

Der Alsterlauf

Forced into stone embankments, the Alster
flows past the Rödingsmarkt and the Herrlichkeit
and joins the Elbe between Hamburger Neustadt and
the Portugiesenviertel. Six hours it takes for steamers,
freighters and tankers to reach the sea along the
deep-dredged channel. The three canisters,
a raft that will never be built, since I am
not Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn
and my favorite river is not the Mississippi, but
a stream by which I often linger to gaze at the water
and reflect on the meaning of poetry, these three
pathetic empty plastic containers drift for
weeks from the railway bridge into the
brackish Elbe between St. Pauli,
Finkenwerder and Glückstadt.
Their plastic, cast, molded,
punched and glued in a factory in,
let’s say, Hangzhou, before being shipped to
Hamburg along with millions of identical milky white
canisters, requires, unless it’s ground to bits,
around 850 years to decompose and
vanish from the earth, as long a span of time
as the two Alster lakes have existed in the middle
of Hamburg. Though no doubt what is true
of the soul is true of plastic. Never,
never does it vanish for good.

Plastikmeer5

In a poem in his collection Rare Earths,
Arne Rautenberg, from Kiel, transforms the
oceans’ infestation of plastic into art, into his art,
for which he expresses his thanks (to the tides, the
motion of the waves, and to the ultraviolet light, as well
as to the plankton and the great ocean gyres), his
thanks for being an artist who can play upon
all the continents. Long live art. Long live
the one and only, eternal joy that is
artistic freedom! This means, too,
that everything wants to be art, just as
everything that is at all alive wants to be free.
Plastic, in the year 1800, for Friedrich
von Hardenberg, who called him-
self Novalis, the one who clears
new land, was an aesthetic term,
when he wrote that music, plasticity
and poetry were inseparable elements,
existing together in every free art, just combined
in different proportions. Novalis thought these thoughts
in Burgenland, in Weissenfels on the Saale, which
together with the Mulde, the Müglitz and the
Vereinigte Weisseritz forms a river-land
that he loved, and where he spent
his whole life. All four rivers
flow into the Elbe,
and so, at Barby,
does the Saale, where
Novalis went swimming as a boy,
naked, and often long into the night.

Plastikmeer4

In his whole life Hardenberg never once
held a thing made of plastic. No wonder! There
were no synthetic materials, not even in the hair-
band of a tiny little doll, nowhere in the entire old
world filled with the murmur of the endless
forests, the stillness, the ringing of
bells and the stink of cloacas.
Yogurt cups; lids; clocks; cling wrap;
shopping bags; bags of all colors, sizes and
shapes; toys of all shapes, sizes and colors; cigarette
lighters; disc jackets; pens; car mats; disposable
razors; hub caps; combs; clips; ballpoint pen
cases and cases for cases; bottles; bottle
caps; automobile, tractor, truck and
harvester tires; bowls; plates;
eating utensils; bread bags
and card cases; cases for card
cases; cases for mirror frames; canisters;
disposable chairs; disposable bowls; disposable
tables; plugs; sockets; disposable socket boards; endless
lengths of wires, wires, in sacks and bags, stuffed into
disposable cases; nothing, nothing at all, not the
least little bit of it existed in the as-yet
undestroyed, unwired quiet world,
when Novalis swam in the Saale
without a thought for burning fat,
building muscles or steeling his
chest, but perhaps instead reflecting
whether the bosom is the breast elevated
to a state of mystery, and physics
nothing but the teachings
of the imagination.

Kupferstich Alsleben an der Saale

For the most part, the plastic
trash which the Elbe sweeps into
the North Sea vanishes there in the sea’s
dark abysses. The sediments of the long-since
ravaged sea floor contain inconceivable
quantities of tiny bits of microplastic
particles, mainly fibers, the sum
of which, according to the British Royal
Society’s trade journal Open Science, exceeds
by ten thousandfold the larger fragments of plastic
that drift in polluted water gyres, agglomerating
into veritable continents of trash, larger than
Central Europe. If each square kilometer
of the ocean floor were a lake, all
these lakes would be clogged,
one could almost say: shat full of
quadrillions of plastic fibers, all the way
up into the tallest treetops on their shores.

Plastikmeer2

Nowhere on this Earth, at the North Pole,
in the Black, Red or Dead Sea, the
Caribbean or the Antarctic, is there a
large body of water, a coast or a beach with-
out plastic residue, report London scientists
headed by Lucy Woodall from the Natural History
Museum, outside whose façade of noise-insulating
windows the Thames sloshes past, regulated and
polluted. Floating in the world’s seven seas,
according to calculations, there are nearly
two hundred and seventy thousand tons
of plastic trash, a horrendous number,
but well-nigh absurd, for it is mysteriously
small compared with the galactic quantities of
plastic trash that all of us actually dump into the sea,
namely an estimated six and a half million tons, for
who can calculate the true weight of the plug
with which we are stopping the world?
Where does it go, all the crap of
affluence, you have to ask. Only
a fraction of the trash, it seems, floats
on the surface in the form of visible particles.
Larger particles break up in the swells, are ground up,
shredded, in part by UV light, into microparticles
that can barely be seen. If algae or microbes
settle on them, they go under, sinking
like ships, airplanes or a corpse
down into the dark
at the bottom.

Plastikmeer1

Lucy Woodall’s team analyzed
twelve sediment samples from the ocean
floor collected over the course of twelve years,
up to 2012, in the southwestern Indian Ocean and
in the northeastern Atlantic. Four coral samples, too,
were studied under the microscope and in the
infrared spectrometer. All the sediment
samples contained microplastic
particles, mostly fibers, generally two to
three millimeters long, but often less than tenth
of a millimeter thick. The samples contained
an average of thirteen and a half particles
per fifty milliliters of liquid. More than
half of the particles were viscose,
which is not a plastic, but an
artificial fiber made from
cellulose and used in cigarette
filters, and increasingly in clothing.
Fish, skates, sharks, wales and turtles have
no use for the stuff; for them viscose is poison
from which they will perish, like anyone
who finds nothing left to eat but
plastic. The second most
common material found in all
marine creatures across the globe
was polyester; indeed, one could speak of
polyester fish, polyester water snakes,
polyester octopi. And perhaps,
once the particles are ground smaller
and smaller, until they condense
with the seawater vapors
and rise into the air, one will speak
of clouds of polyester or viscose: plastic clouds.
Due to the small number of samples, it was
impossible to compare the frequency and
composition of the sediments. But fibrous
microparticles seem to be found through-
out the deep sea, ten thousand times
more prevalent in sediments than
in the contaminated ocean gyres.
According to projections, just
one square kilometer of sediment
from the Indian Ocean’s deep-sea mountains
contains around four quadrillion plastic fibers. And
studies of the deep-sea valley, the sink for the whole
world’s plastic trash, have not yet been undertaken.
Darkest night reigns there. It is lightless and void
of stars. Nothing sparkles. And yet even there
breaths the vast world of the restless stars
that float in the sky’s blue ocean.

*

Photos: Inner and Outer Alster (lakes) in Hamburg (1), a black swan in a blinkered world, the Alster in Hamburg-Klein Borstel (3), the plastic pollution of the oceans and coasts (4, 5, 7, 8), copperplate of Alsleben an der Saale in the 18th century, as Novalis knew the town and river in his childhood (6).

(Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole)

Mirko Bonné: Das Antlitz der Unwirklichkeit

Mit seinem neuen Roman Nie mehr Nacht war der herausragende deutsche Autor Mirko Bonné für den Deutschen Buchpreis 2013 nominiert. Mit Unterstützung des Goethe-Instituts Australien in Melbourne wird Mirko Bonné in dieser deutschsprachigen Veranstaltung über die eindrucksvolle Geschichte eines Künstlers, der einem Auftrag folgend nach Frankreich reist, um dort Brücken zu zeichnen, sein Engagement für Weather Stations und seine Arbeit als Übersetzer von u.a. John Keats, e.e. cummings und W.B. Yeats sprechen.