1083: first person by Ed Roberson

20240327 Slowdown

1083: first person by Ed Roberson

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Victoria Chang.


I’m Victoria Chang and this is The Slowdown.

Because I’m a very organic person and rather compliant, if someone suggests something, I often go along with the idea. One of those ideas was that I should attend business school. I had no idea what I had signed myself up for — and yet, it turned out to be a fascinating two years.

As part of our orientation, we could select a trip to go on with other students. I picked hiking because the other choices, like mountain biking, seemed a bit…dangerous. That turned out to be true. Many people came back with broken bones from that trip.

I love the outdoors and the natural world, but I am not an overnight camper. This trip required us to carry really heavy backpacks, hike up and down hills, and sleep overnight in a tiny tent with an assigned stranger. Everything about this trip gave me anxiety. One day, in the morning, before everyone got up, I decided to go down to the river by myself and wash my hair which felt particularly grimy and dirty. I brought a small bottle of shampoo and washed my hair in the freezing cold water. I felt reinvigorated by this small, private activity.

By the time I returned to camp, most people were up and gathered around the fire. A woman in our group looked at me, paused, and then very quietly explained to me that using shampoo and soaps in a river can cause harm to the fish and other aquatic life. Their toxic ingredients can reduce oxygen in the water, and cause other problems. At that time, I was surprised by her forthrightness, but decades later, I am still chagrined for not knowing something so basic. Yet, I am also thankful for the generous but firm way in which she educated me.

How can we learn if no one helps us to learn? How can we help each other learn if we don’t speak up, if we don’t talk to each other honestly? How can we learn if we don’t look harder at ourselves and the things we do or don’t do, know or don’t know, every single day?

Today’s poem asks hard questions of all of us individually and communally, the kind of questions that we have to continue to ask, if we are to survive as a species and a planet.

first person
by Ed Roberson

This time not one apple but how many
we think we can force to market,     our mistake
fallen in line,     a snake that deceives us
into bankruptcy and collapse,     our bellies
to the ground,    the market of creation down.

Since it turned out the names were not names
but recipes, the table has been the point
of communion with the earth —
eat the ground’s cover down to the dirt,
pull the meat out of the air,    pop the pod surface
of the waters for the last bean of fish,
eat fire, energy until only ashes are left.

And the mind, maybe the fifth element —
eat it      like when the mind eats its familiar
when it fails to be the other persons
of itself it is in the whole collective
world of other eyes,    otherwise,   in other
words,     it eats itself.

A world that runs out on    runs out of     itself dies,
our idea of ourselves as apart from everything else
has eaten us out of house and home,
is eating away at me inside.

“first person” by Ed Roberson from ASKED WHAT HAS CHANGED © 2022 Ed Roberson. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.