Dark Matter 17 Editorial


In what is now a Dark Matter tradition, contributors to this issue convened on Zoom to discuss each other’s work.  What follows is a highly edited version of our conversation.

Nan: I was extremely grateful to read all your work. I felt much less lonely and less crazy. Alex, I found it painful to read your devastatingly beautiful work about living beside a clearcut. “My refuge continues to recede”:  I felt that in my body. The sudden vulnerability– nothing between you and the wind. That idea of refuge receding is a thread throughout these pieces.  

Nancy: I felt less alone too Nan. There were so many echoes and resonances. Alex, the way you described the vast opening of heartbreaking space and the open sky in Kristin’s piece after her mother dies—all of the heart that is in all of your writing. This big question we’re all living with every day of how do we show up in this time and how do we love and how do we hold our heartbreak and still be open and still love. I think I cried with each piece I read. 

JoeAnn: Nan, I found your pelican poem and the notes to it just heartbreaking. The fact that the pelicans of the Great Salt Lake now leave their young. That’s so extreme. But they have to do it because they have to ensure another generation. It’s a last resort but they have to do it. 

Nan: It is genuinely heartbreaking. There’s really nowhere for them to go. There’s eleven islands on Great Salt Lake and none of them are really islands anymore because of the receding waters so those birds who nest on the ground and count on the waters for protection, it’s hard to know where they’ll go in the spring. And Great Salt Lake is only one of a hundred saline seas worldwide that are receding.  

Elena: There’s a thread running through a lot of the pieces about being forced into adaptation or evolution. The pelicans being exiled from their home is also a migration story. 

Down on Jefferson at the Detroit River there’s a boat launch and the other day I was walking by and at least a hundred dead seagulls were just laying there covered in black oil. Reading “Pelicans In Exile” I was thinking, I wish the seagulls could have gotten away like they did. It was like a mass homicide. I was wishing they could have been brought in and given some alternative environment like in JoeAnn’s story “Such As It Is.”

JoeAnn: They’re called mass mortality events, and that’s in the story. And you saw one. 

Elena: Nobody noticed or acknowledged it. 

JoeAnn: Your Detroit piece was really remarkable. I knew nothing apparently about Detroit. I’m in the middle of reading Camille Dungy’s Soil about her ripping up her yard in Ft. Collins and replacing it with prairie. There are a lot of parallels to your urban garden there.

Diane: Both of my parents grew up in immigrant neighborhoods in Detroit. My mother is first-generation Sicilian American, my father was Slovakian, and I still have family there and you captured the landscape so wrenchingly and beautifully. It seems to augur so much of what we’re facing and will face–as goes the Motor City so goes the state of the nation. Similar things are happening here in Idaho. They’re taking out mobile homes and putting in giant highrises and townhouses . Financial racial ethnic cleansing.

Nancy: There were so many ways that the theme of violence of humans toward our own species that we’re all thinking and feeling so much about right now echoes the violences you’re all writing about toward the more-than-human world.

Gillian: Deborah Bird Rose, one of my mentors, says that genocide and ecocide travel together. They’re two faces of the same ethos.

Lise: Only one of you wrote directly about Israel/Gaza and yet I felt all of you were in your own way writing about the horror of the “receding refuge.” But at the same time there was a surging forth of something beautiful and healing. 

JoeAnn: What Deena wrote at the end of her piece: “This is the task: to remain engaged and compassionate in the face of brutality, cruelty and overwhelming circumstances we are afraid we cannot meet.. .to turn rather toward loving fiercely…” 

Carole: Not just loving, but devotion to loving as an intentional act. Which I found as a theme through every single piece. Devotion to loving, whether it’s to a forest or the birds or the reconciliation of cultures in Yehudit’s piece. In Kristin’s piece, her mother devoted her life to loving. It just seems to sing out in each piece. And Detroit, I mean, how much you love Detroit, Elena.

Elena: More than I’ve ever loved any man.

Carole: And plastic. Learning to have a resonance with plastic, as in Nancys piece about Ethyl the blue whale.

Alex: Yes, that brings up for me a thread that deeply moved me. Not just love and devotion, but a distinct tenderness towards “the other”.  The stranger in Yehudit’s poem. The disease in Carole and Diane’s pieces. The plastic. And in several pieces, the whales extending that tenderness towards us and reaching out to us. 

Gillian: And in your piece, the trees reaching out tenderly to each other. 

Diane:  I would like to say a few words about Carole’s piece and the struggle with Lyme disease which echoed my poem. I had been struggling with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth which I had thought was a mirror of the imbalance in the world that I’d internalized and that bad colonizers were taking over my gut.  To read your piece about the unbelievably creative and determined ways you revisioned and decided to work with these creatures was so helpful. I want to thank you for that. 

Carole:  Well, I want to thank you for your poem, which felt like a distillation of what I was trying to say in my essay.

JoeAnn: It is humbling to consider that our bodies are not entirely ours. 

Diane: They’re mostly not ours. It’s in a way liberating to be reminded of that. 

Yehudit: I was really inspired by everyone’s writing. In every piece there was not only bearing witness, but also a rising up via embodied practice and ritual. I think of Alex going out every night to be with the tree stumps. Nancy’s rituals with the plastic whale. 

Lise: I think of Michaela’s piece about learning to breach in her own body by feeling the whale’s body breaching.

Alex: Yeah, that piece by Michaela shifted something in me, because at first I was like, “Who would do that?” and then it was like, “Wait, that’s me!” I’m going on these dives every night when I go into the clearcut. It totally flipped my mind. 

Gillian: I love that, the deep dive into the clearcut forest into that space of wounding and Michaela’s deep dive into the oceans that are also wounded, and haunted by all the African bodies that were jumped or were forced overboard during the Middle Passage. Another “mass mortality event.” Michaela writes when she feels the whale’s song work on her physical form: “…without missing a beat or changing a note [they] shift into a transmission that my body downloads with ease, taking a shape I’ve never felt before, flexing, repositioning, and coordinating muscles in a way I had never imagined possible…” What this brings up for me is that even when we go into spaces of wounding that are foreign to us there is—whether it’s Michaela diving 30 feet down without much experience or Carole rediscovering herself as a terrain of peace—there’s a remembering in the body itself that is healing.

Carole: Yes, in Lise’s piece that kind of transformation from not being there to being there in the moment and then really being there in the moment. There’s so many times in all of the pieces where despite all we think and all that has happened before and all we think is going to happen… this ability to be in the moment is what saves us. 

Nan: Yes, the joyful play in your piece, Lise. This vigil that we’re keeping on Salt Lake, coming up to the third one, has been an act of being present daily. In the first two vigils grief was the defining mood, but I feel like it’s an invitation directly from the lake to bring a joyful playful celebratory aspect to this vigil so we have been making art all summer: cardboard, human-sized brine shrimp. We’ll be walking to the Capitol as shrimp. It’s bringing back some child joy.  

The living, singing earth is still tugging on us. Everyone is singing at us with us all the time; in Michalea’s piece the whales are singing in a way that can be received.  At first in these vigils we mostly walked and counted bodies of birds and cried. But now in the third year, the lake is insisting and I feel us being tutored almost, towards joy and towards song.  

Nancy: You know I was on the boat when Lise got sprayed. I was there for that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you laugh like that. It was just crazy joy. It was so clear you couldn’t miss it. It’s in Michaela’s piece too—that benevolence, that transmission, “here we’re going to give this to you” along with all the other layers in that incredible piece.  It’s another one of the themes that I noticed. That reciprocity and benevolence. I even feel it with Ethyl the whale when I go to be with her. She‘s much less somber than I’m inclined to be. She’s sparkly and lights up at night. She just kind of makes you want to laugh, though the whole back story is so sad.

Gillian: In Yehudit’s poem there’s that same spirit of reciprocity and gentleness and generosity of spirit that is so healing. “Blessed be the stranger.”  

Carole: And “Hurry, your plate is waiting.”

Kristin: I think of the presence of mind and heart and body that is required to witness in the way that all of you are witnessing. And then to be able to hold it and carry it and communicate it with such heartbreaking beauty. If we can transform our relationship to plastic, if we can offer a plate to a stranger, if we can learn not to make war on everyone who is different from us….

Carole: Just like ticks aren’t the problem with Lyme disease plastic isn’t really the problem, it’s what’s done with it. Plastic as a material has created many miracles for us. The dark side is how humans have carelessly used what was a great innovation. 

Elena: In the Michigan legislature there’s a ban on the ban of plastic bags. Here the trees have plastic bags stuck to them by the wind. They look like they grew on these trees.

Alex: This is bringing up something that I had to contend with, and that is the machines that are doing the clear-cutting are not inherently evil, but they’re being used in this evil way. Enslaved earth being turned against earth (and, in Gaza, against people). And even the machine operator who almost hit me, even though he is “on the other side of the line,” I feel there’s this tether to him now. Sometimes I look for him or think I see him somewhere. I also think he quit after that, after having to encounter my grief. He couldn’t even look at me.

Nan: I want to acknowledge what I think is the hardest thing to hold here at the lake.  It really came up for me in your piece Alex when you say, “I choose to stay.” I’m choosing to stay but… I’m afraid. I’m scared of being poisoned. I’m aware there’s nowhere to hide on earth. But at this time of year the poison air is very palpable, you taste and feel it in your body… I don’t want to leave and I also don’t know how many years of my life to give up…

Alex:  Every single day I think “I can’t live here.” It’s so hard. This week is the anniversary of when the trees were cut… 

Lise:  I need to quote you here Alex: “But I also know that in order to keep living here—not just at the edge of the clear-cut, but in this world as we teeter at the edge of every devastation—I also need to keep feeling. I need to keep remembering. I need to keep associating—finding association and kinship—and staying in living, dynamic relationship with this place and the world at large. Even if it is no longer what it was or what I want it to be; even if more of it is going to be lost.”

Yehudit: What gives me hope is that people can change. There’s a group called “Combatants for Peace” composed of Israelis who were soldiers, Palestinians who were fighters coming together. There’s a film about it and in it there’s a scene between a Palestinian suicide bomber and her jailer, an Israeli soldier, who asks her about her children. In that moment, she says she realized she was a mother, they were both mothers, and everything changed. 

Nancy: That story makes me think too, of what Alex wrote about dissociation, how the opposite is association and kinship. Tokitae, in her horrendous imprisonment, singing the song of her Orca family—of kinship and connection and belonging.  

Lise: And Diane and Carole, practicing it within their own internal ecosystems. 

For me, there’s also something important running through this issue about… just don’t assume that you know. Amazing surprises can happen and do regularly… A whale on the desert? Ticks as our friends?  An Israeli soldier bonding with a Palestinian suicide bomber? 

Diane: In a way knowing is part of the problem. We can’t know. Thinking is not going to get us out of this. Heart-centered consciousness could, honoring the invisible world, magic, spirit. These parts of our being that have been subdued repressed and forbidden by the colonizers and dominators. We don’t know and we shouldn’t pretend we can. The mysteries of the invisible world are nudging us this way and that, asking us to flipper with earth joy, to sing and hear their singing. 

Lise: Yes. Michaela writes about the whales: “… I will never, ever fully know what they mean, because mystery is mystery is mystery is mystery still and always, Hallelujah.”

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