We are living in desperate times. The rule of law is slipping away, the last shreds of our humanity are being consumed by ravaging wars and reality TV. What we need is a sonnet, now and then, to remind us of the pleasures of real ethical challenges, and the pleasures of putting them into words.
Remember those smarmy posters that show the back of a human throwing a starfish back into the sea? This was touted for a while as the starfish theory, that improving the life of one tide-washed starfish would change the world. Well, I always thought it wasn't quite that simple.
We cannot restore our precious earth without thinking about the hard questions, challenging our own prejudices, and refusing to accept conventional wisdom. We cannot survive without asking the questions, and as Rilke said, living the questions long enough to understand, finally, that we have lived our way to the answers. This sonnet was my feeble attempt to live the questions, or describe what it might mean to live the questions, rather than living the slogans.
Upon this tide-washed beach the live star lies
And calls to me with challenge ethical:
Toss her back into the sea or walk away.
Above my head ten hungry terns circle
Carnivores gray and black casting death's shadows.
My quandry: the star's fate at my clay-formed feet.
How oft the query here in tidal shallows
Posed,when maybe greater hearts freed stars from land.
But I thought today the terns, too, depend
On salted bounty tossed by wind-bent brine.
Eons before I walked this littered strand
Ocean-tossed stars upon these sands did shine
And fed the shorebirds hunting in bright bands.
The star? The bird? The ocean or my hands?