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Goldilocks Planet: 7 Poems on Ecological Disaster

A case submitted by

David Shaddock

I am a poet and a psychoanalytically oriented therapist. As an activist at Berkeley in the sixties, our focus gradually widened to include ecological destruction. My great teacher and friend, Denise Levertov, showed me by example (cf "The Life Around Us" New Directions) how to write ecologically-themed poems. These poems, all sonnets, are from a forthcoming book entitled "Tehachapi Pass." Let's call this selection "Goldilocks Planet." My poems have appeared in Mother Jones, Tikkun and Earth First! Journal.

Goldilocks Planet 

“Of course I have a mouth, I look a lot like 

You" I say to my new-found exoplanet 

Friend near Proxima Centauri. Turns out 

We both breathe Oxygen. We keep it quite short

Counting our syllables, and then it does take 

Eight plus years to get a reply, four each way. 

"I wish I knew why we're carbonizing our air" 

Was the last thing I sent him, “ruining our this-

One’s-just-right planet. Maybe we’ll have seawalls

To save San Francisco by the time I hear back— 

Ryan twelve and Samantha out of med school.

“You don't know what you've got till it’s gone” I thought

I'd tell him next time, quoting Joni Mitchell.

I dream of quartz sparkle, high desert, canteens.


Two out of every five pollinators 

Honeybees, hummingbirds, butterflies, facing 

Extinction says Ned on the phone--I'd called to 

Talk hoops--and then, nailing it for me, maybe

We've just lived too long, as in who wants to stay 

For an ecodystopia? Not me, thanks. 

We used to hitch from Berkeley to the Haight 

With strangers we called brothers, the city a peeled

Back palimpsest of sacred texts, revealing 

We thought the secret source of the world’s kindness.

It’s all still there, I wanted to tell him, if

Only we could break out of isolation 

Since consciousness surges up and recedes-- 

Our time here only the narrowest of slits.


I’ve been reading up on climate change--it's all 

Much closer than we could have guessed—maybe eight 

Good years left us. I’m going to quit without 

Waiting for my pension, move to Canada  

Where research tells me I’ll be safer. My wife 

Can come if she wants, but she's putting the kids 

In danger to stay here by the coast. Mika’s 

Friend from work tried to talk sense into me.  

Couldn't I get a new Tesla, have an affair 

Or take up golf? They both think I’ve joined 

A cult I found on the Internet. North of  

Winnipeg you can buy land for a song, grow 

Pot as things warm up and it becomes legal. 

I’ll stock the cabin with classics. Are you in?


Route 88 south of Lodi looks like Mars. 

You can’t see the rest room from the gas pump. 

Light through orange haze says maybe I’ll kill you 

Maybe I won’t. Dismay, the Bay’s no better.  

Pittsburgh Bart, broad daylight brake lights like burning 

Charcoal. No breeze through the tunnel, the City 

Skeletal, everyone gasping for air like 

A bad George Romero movie. Should I Laugh  

Or cry or both? A bit of hope on my phone 

But then I see the green ikons with circles 

Are for indoor sensors on Purple Air.  

Next day at noon total smoke-eclipse, songbirds 

Roosting, darkness-sensor streetlights coming on. 

Try a shower, but the dirt’s on the inside.

Dia de Los Muertos

Halloween at the farmer’s market, grownups 

All in masks for both smoke and Covid. Ryan 

Came as Marshall, the helpful fire dog from Paw 

Patrol. Last year you could hold tarantulas  

Or pet a python; this year the smoke is a scrim 

turning the whole scene into a shadow play. 

The masks have yellow straps and small plastic f

ilters that protrude like truncated fungi.  

Why did they all wear the same costume? he asks. 

Our friend Barbara has a Day of the Dead 

Altar next to her taco truck. Faded pictures  

Of her family from Mexico City 

Scarves and beads, a child’s mirror with a mended 

Blue handle. How did she die? he wonders out loud.

The Future

This now is the future we've been fearing. 

Floods and droughts and random violence, displaced 

Persons turned back by the boatload, rallies 

In the commons full of angry images  

Of false nostalgia. Yeats’ gyres turning 

The end of a thousand year arc from Magna 

Carta to the Universal Declaration 

Of the Rights of Man. Bomb-vested boys blown up  

To serve the vague but voracious collective. 

It reminds me of Denise's stories: huddling 

In dank Blitz bomb shelters, then, nineteen, going  

Out to tend the wounded. My grandson Ryan 

Puts his hand in my hand as we cross toward 

The schoolyard playground, his trust my antidote.


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