a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
People who know me know this: I don’t pretend to be an expert on the legal codes of New Zealand. But back in March something happened there that keeps on running through my mind. Their House of Representatives, which must be a whole bunch different than ours, passed a bill giving human rights to the Whanganui River. How’s that for treatment of a natural resource? Pretty good. And what I keep thinking—now that a river can claim personhood and dignity—is, What do I want to suggest for human rights next?
Probably stars. They deserve to be noticed. Once a month we’ll have darkness by decree. We’ll have twelve new ways to look up, a dozen needed oases. And Puget Sound, of course. Whether seen from a ferry or not. Whether or not it’s sundown on Seattle’s million windows so the skyline is mirroring gold-orange, rose, and red, and the Olympic Mountains are both in front of you and behind you, and seagulls ride rivers of updraft, and this time and place and wind should be vested with rights. The trees near Crescent City too—they’re older than Christianity. I’ll call each sequoia a cathedral, drinking fog, which truly is Holy Water. The snowmelt I drank in an ice cave: rights. Those ghost-conversations of coyotes: rights. That soul-blown sound of a train at night—part love, part loss, and part Coltrane—couldn’t be more human, with the human right to quiet, so that everyone who needs to hear can hear.
And what about you? Isn’t there a lakeshore somewhere? Or a night in some December? Or a time you saw some pronghorn and were doubly surprised—first by their nearness, then a second time by how they leapt away: too squat to be bounding like that? Isn’t there a long-distance drive you’ve taken with a good enough reason at the end of it? Or a kiss that lives in your memory, that goes on rivering and rivering? Or a view from the porch of a lightning storm coursing the sky?
Anyway, it’s April, soon to be summer in Utah, where most aren’t yelling and opposed to helping refugees. Most don’t think it’s okay to zero them out, leave them trapped in their national horrors. In New Zealand they’ve granted more rights than that to a river, which ought to be an elemental lesson. Here’s hoping it flows all the way from there to D.C.
Rob Carney is the author of five books of poems, most recently The Book of Sharks (Black Lawrence Press, Aug. 2018) and 88 Maps (Lost Horse Press, 2015), which was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. In 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Columbia Journal, The Dark Mountain Project, and many others, and he writes a featured series called “Old Roads, New Stories” for Terrain: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments. He is a Professor of English at UVU and lives in Salt Lake City.