1113: Egrets, While War by Tishani Doshi

20240508 Slowdown

1113: Egrets, While War by Tishani Doshi


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

It’s a time of blooming. Outside my window students make their way to classes. Cherry blossom petals christen their walk. Almost my whole adult life has been spent on picturesque college campuses like this one: well-manicured lawns, pop-up tulip gardens, and perfectly trimmed walkways with not a weed in sight.

The sense of order is allegorical. These expanses of green convey the illusory spirit of a rational and ordered world. One where learning is an ideologically safe undertaking. To learn is a preordained path to self-discovery and functional knowledge. A carefully fertilized landscape does not hint at the messiness of experimentation, exploration and even protests, though I know it exists — nor the context by which learning takes place. Often the serene nature of such cultivated settings belies a planet full of conflict and in disarray.

To stroll on campus is to follow in the footsteps of generations of young people who also sought answers. Back in the day, before the dominance of hand-held tech, the walk between the halls of learning and the library and a professor’s office perhaps possessed grander symbolism. It spoke to the monastic roots of being a student. We were literally on the path. Now it seems we are mostly in rabbit holes, matrices of mined data.

Which is why I love to encounter “desire lines,” a term coined by landscape architects for those unplanned footpaths that result out of need and will, those worn-down patches of grass and dirt. They look unruly, but they are evidence of the irrefutable nature of human agency, curiosity, and will. Desire lines signify resistance. They represent a disruptive appetite, a thirst, a wish. Staying within boundaries and borders is an almost impossible ask of humans who naturally long for freedom.

Today’s compelling poem honors the ancient and indomitable essence of human beings who continue on even in the face of tragedy, who crossover into the perfect fullness of their truth and emotions.

Egrets, While War
by Tishani Doshi

In the garden, egrets are doing their stalking
dance, and it’s easy to see how they are really
feathered dinosaurs flown in through a hole
from the past. Somewhere, a city under siege
remains sleepless. The dirge of loss recovery
loss loss loss          continues. I cannot say
why other people’s family portraits fill me
with such tectonic longing. Ancestors
who stepped from ocean to land, shedding fin,
tail, gill, to transform into a symphony
of great-aunts and uncles. We bury clues
of our dispossession—bony-plated language,
heart scarab. Our task is to march on. To rise
and leave the apple orchard, throw stones
at marauders who threaten to tear up
the carpets. Father will file a missing person 
report while spring carries on with its hedonism.
It is pointless to resist the pull of our fruiting 
bodies. Whatever we fear has already happened.
Will keep happening. If we could just wake
to fullness in a delta with the berry-red lips 
of an amorous god upon us. Climb trees
to listen to heartbeats. But here, the earth
remains leashed to mystery—clay fingerprint,
fragment of jaw. The sea retracts her tongue
like a warning. Winged creatures lurch
and soar. Whiteness, then vanishing. 

"Egrets, While War" by Tishani Doshi. Used by permission of the poet.