Cathexis Northwest Press
We ponder the destiny of our country and our lives the week before Election Day, 2020
By: Louise Barden
Cassandra can cry out all she wants,
but this can’t be stopped any more than water
can stop itself from dropping over the cliff.
See what happens? Without earth under the water
there is nothing to hold the stream together – nothing
to make the water remember the way its molecules
moved all as one under a clear sky. Suddenly
without the riverbed to hold the river
up, every drop flies unfettered, wild,
shattering against the jagged stones below
split into droplets transformed to fleeting vapor.
See how they rise invisibly?
Each small molecule set free, ascending
until the day they meet to form in a cloud, gathering
into drops again, uniting again to fall and stream again. Is this
how everything must work-- this joining and parting, this falling
from rock ledges, this splintering far below the heights
against the tumbled stones of lost mountainsides? The drops
that once were joined -- set free? Or are they driven out
to gleam and perish on their own?
Is this how we must pass the days
and decades growing into eons –as matter
forming and exploding, nations rising to dominion
and then failing? Is this our foretold union -- each molecule
and droplet ordained to bind with others?
Each union breaking into pieces, without will
or foreknowledge? Each of us alone and moving forward
as if we know where we’re going?
Louise Barden is a transplanted Easterner who recently has happily re-settled in Corvallis, Oregon. She has been a university English instructor and a marketing-advertising executive. Her poetry has won awards from Calyx (https://www.calyxpress.org/), the North Carolina Writers’ Network’s (Harperprints chapbook contest for Tea Leaves), and the Southwest Review’s 2017 Marr Prize (finalist). Her poems have been published in Chattahoochee Review, Timberline, and others.
The great uncertainty and fear that surrounded our election this fall made me remember that over ten years ago, I heard an interview about a book called “The Rise and Fall of Great Nations.” It supported a theory that our nation has been in its period of ascendency, but that – if the book’s author is right -- government as we know it in this country is doomed to fail – as others have failed before us. That unsettling thought has led me to think of the theory in physics that all things in the universe go through disintegration and reorganization: that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. And in the midst of all this, here we as individuals are, thinking our own lives are important, purposeful and lasting.
Of course, all that sounds like a rational explanation of the poem, but like most of my poems, the actual creative process for this one was a mystery. How I seized on Cassandra and then the extended metaphor of the river and the waterfall, and how it all led to the final line isn’t something I can explain. But when I got to that line, I knew it said what I wanted it to say.