To celebrate Earth Month, Parley for the Oceans and Atmos team up for an ongoing eco-poetry series on the connection between the environment and the human experience. In “The Estuary,” poet Vijay Seshadri examines our place on earth amidst the human and non-human happenings of nature.
The brown bear living near the estuary,
and wading out when the tide swells and the salmon run,
during the days of the dwindling salmon runs,
and slapping with his big right paw a hook-nosed fish
whipsawing inland to spawn,
the ambidextrous bear,
furred like the forest from which he emerged,
waddling into the unteachable waters
to swat the salmon out the fast-running tide
and catch the red salmon in his mouth
and toss and juggle the sockeye salmon
thrashing and drowning in the air—
and when he’s expressed himself completely
he catches with his jaw the self
that swam ten thousand miles to the estuary
and daintily, mincingly, with one paw grasping
the caudal fin and the other the head,
eats that salmon as if he were we
and the fish an ear of boiled corn—
that bear is a bear about whom rich and complicated
feelings can be felt. That is a bear from whom ideas
about the state of nature can be derived.
Cruelty is the wrong word to describe
the pleasure he gets from playing with his lunch.
Play and life are the same thing to him,
art and life, life and death.
Creation impinging on a consciousness
clear and crystalline. Pinpoint revelatory
explosions unsoiled by words, unbesmirched.
Creation clambering out of the waters,
shaking itself off, creation
surrounding itself with itself . . .
Stay down on the pavement where you just fell in a heap
like a bag of laundry, just stay there. Move even a
little and you might damage something else.
You’ve already done plenty of damage.
Stay down, supine. Stay down,
and let the giant buildings loom over you, let them
in their abstract imperium stun you with their indifference.
Wasn’t that the reason you built them in the first place?
Stay down, stay down, and ask yourself:
“Could I be the bear in this fable?”
“Could I be the fish?”
“Could I be whoever is imagining all this?”