Dropping the shield (followed by an autobiographical note on the writing of this poem)

A memory held in the back
Of these aging eyes
Is probably more than a memory

More like footage of a lost film,
The quintessence of
A story never understood

Until now.
There is young so-and-so
And another scamp and me

In a sandpit
Ecstatically undermining
The great cuts

Left by a backhoe
Where the bank swallows tunneled
Ever deeper to protect their nests.

We would dig beneath the overhangs
And then go up and jump
Until the ground released

Leaping back just in time
To avoid going down
And being buried alive

While the swallows swooped
Above our heads
EtchIng celtic knots of alarm in midair.

Their colonies in peril
From the backhoes,
And then us.

Oh, they dove at us but mostly
Wrote large cursive
Expressions of calamity

Which have caught up with me
Now that I have dropped
My heavy shield of innocence.

Bank Swallows are listed by Partners in Flight as a Common Bird in Steep Decline. Their North American numbers have crashed by an estimated 89% since 1970. The global breeding population is estimated at 26 million.It has probably declined due to the many threats throughout its range. These include a loss of breeding and foraging habitat, collisions with vehicles, loss of nesting habitat from erosion control projects, and decline in prey abundance from pesticides.

Autobiographical note on the writing of this poem: “My heavy shield of innocence” is heavy because it is made of gold, the shield of my golden childhood that protected me like a bubble until the bad dreams came around the age of 8 or 9, when my psyche began to let in the traumatized collective unconscious of white America, post-world-war 2 . . . Dreams of world’s end, which haunted me until I was around 13 years old and started reading poets (Eliot and Yeats) and Thoreau and Hesse, who threw a life-line to my soul. It was the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that froze my heart (around the age of 8 or 9, around the time we went shopping for a bomb shelter) just as I was trying to enter the world as an individual. As an empath, at that very young age, I couldn’t fathom that such a crime went unpunished. I sensed that I was living under a gargantuan shadow, and somehow I was complicit, and so were my parents. And that was only the beginning of my awareness of the American shadow. It was more than I could bear psychically. Like I say, I had no words to express what I was sensing and how vulnerable I felt, and even if I had been able to express what I was feeling, there was no one to talk to — no one. I just had to weather my hallucinogenic nightmares, which came every single time I was sick, until I was finally able to begin the work of translating my existential anguish into metaphor. But until the age of 8, I was surrounded by a magic circle that was the quintessence of my mother’s love, my home-life, my rural Huck-Finnish upbringing. (When I climbed a tree I was one with the tree, when I played in the brook, I was one with the brook, I built forts in the woods and was happy being a “scamp”.) The point is that “shield of innocence” was not a shield at all back then, it was a circle of magic protection. Since then I have felt remnants of that protection, almost as if my mother and other ancestors are watching out for me. But the great American shadow has not diminished over the decades. If anything it has grown, and I feel like I have to work harder to earn the protection of the universe. Protection is not a given. The fact is, I have made some concessions to the matrix, the uber-intelligence that commits mega-crimes that “go unpunished” and adds to the bad karma of the collective psyche. I have bought in to the “system”, more than I could have imagined I would when I was a young poet. And so, with a poem like “Dropping the shield”, I am acknowledging that I have reached a point in life when I can no longer pretend that I can get out of this jail free or untraumatized. I’m going to keep working on that, but to me, Climate Change is like a Hiroshima-of-the-world, in extreme slow motion. And so is the climate of endless war. There is no magic circle any more, no more shield of innocence and it is getting harder and harder to recall a time when there ever was.