1108: Life on Earth by Dorianne Laux

20240501 Slowdown

1108: Life on Earth by Dorianne Laux


CONTENT WARNING: Today’s episode discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by dialing the number 988, twenty four hours a day.

I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I cannot fully explain the sadness that seeped into my bones in my teenage years, probably part biological, hormones and all, and part natural reaction to seismic shifts in my family life. The recent death of my stepfather returned me to those years. My life seemed so hard back then, navigating a parent’s addiction and another’s callousness, navigating academic and social pressures, and an environment where fatal harm arrived to young boys my age, to my friends, with little options and no social safety net. It scares me to share this, but my attempted suicide, made in reaction to it all, was a desperate plea for help. I never said it, but how many times did I think “I didn’t ask to be born.”

The day after, I began my journey to love life more and more each day. The miracle of my existence dawns on me each morning that I open my eyes. I gather many poets, like me, write poems to embrace their selves, to honor their distinct presence on earth.

Poems buttress me against the hurt and the harm and the uncertainty of life itself. I fear that the global conflicts we’re witnessing are negatively impacting the health and mental wellbeing of people who are susceptible to the frailty of this moment. I read poetry profusely during times like these. I need heart-affirming art in my life against the obsessive destruction of human life.

Today’s poem says from the day of our first breath, we humans matter.

Life on Earth
by Dorianne Laux

The odds are we should never have been born.
Not one of us. Not one in 400 trillion to be
exact. Only one among the 250 million
released in a flood of semen that glides
like a glassine limousine filled with tadpoles
of possible people, one of whom may
or may not be you, a being made of water
and blood, a creature with eyeballs and limbs
that end in fists, a you with all your particular
perfumes, the chords of your sinewy legs
singing as they form, your organs humming
and buzzing with new life, moonbeams
lighting up your brain’s gray coils,
the exquisite hills of your face, the human
toy your mother longs for, your father
yearns to hold, the unmistakable you
who will take your first breath, your first
step, bang a copper pot with a wooden spoon,
trace the lichen growing on a boulder you climb
to see the wild expanse of a field, the one
whose heart will yield to the yellow forsythia
named after William Forsyth—not the American
actor with piercing blue eyes, but the Scottish
botanist who discovered the buttery bells
on a highland hillside blooming
to beat the band, zigzagging down
an unknown Scottish slope. And those
are only a few of the things 
you will one day know, slowly chipping away
at your ignorance and doubt, you
who were born from ashes and will return
to ash. When you think you might be
through with this body and soul, look down
at an anthill or up at the stars, remember
your gambler chances, the bounty 
of good luck you were born for.

“Life on Earth” from LIFE ON EARTH copyright © 2024 by Dorianne Laux. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.