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In Conversation

A Letter to the First Poet of the Presidio


Do not paddle or swim out when the ship arrives. Do not track or try to engage with the people who emerge from the smaller boats they bring to land. It will take them forever to find you, if you are careful. These are men of the sea, not men of the land. And they don’t know what to look for.

I know: Your natural inclination is towards a sort of poetic curiosity. But trust me on this one. If you can just sit tight, you will be able to think. And now is the time for such thinking.

The world is about to change and you don’t really have much in terms of experience for dealing with the change. Don’t be offended: The map of history is littered with culture that couldn’t adapt to change. As I write this, we live in a world where the seas are rising and chemically changing and warming and cooling in new ways and there are plenty of people rolling around here with no ability to think and Get It. They are doomed, too. Just like, I hate to say, you are.

Get my point? If they come to you, don’t drink their water, nor accept any of their bright-colored cloths. These are not gifts in the true sense. One might more comfortably call them a lure. Don’t be conned or fooled by their knowingness, either. What do they know of the world?

Back to my contemporaries, there are people here who continue to burn fuel here to propel themselves at 80 miles an hour across roads, solo, to places where they, too, are lured into trading for bright cloth and shiny things. See: We have more in common than you might have thought. This is one of the reasons why you should listen to me.

These ship-bound men won’t tell you how they hunt down and kill other men, men who look or act in a way they have already decided is the wrong way to look and act. They won’t tell you they cannot be reasoned with, nor about how easily they breath and sleep after a day of such killing. Such killing feels to them the way bathing does to you – when after many weeks in the hills with the hunt and your hands weighted down by weapons, then dried blood and guts of the stag or elk, you slip into running water, find a deep place, and scrape off all the viscera, watching as it floats from your finger tips. Then your hands feel light again. Your skin feels tight again. So you know this feeling? Of course you do.

This is how they feel when they chase the women and children across the hills and grab their bodies and do what they please, a frenzy. Then they take a deep breath. You must also remember what they won’t say: They won’t tell you that they don’t have any curiosity akin to yours. They do not have the heart of the poet and the soul of the great man. No. They are copiers, cultural duplicators. Their goal is to make all the world familiar to themselves.

But trust me when I tell you this: You will be an ancestor to no one if you don’t show some self-restraint in these times. If you restrain from seeing this moment as one of pure poetry, of art embodied in human life. Too much of the world looks this way to you, imbued with meaning a perfect clarity. Beauty is found in the forest, the sea, the sky. Yes, yes this is true.

PS:  Please respond to this letter when the appropriate moment arrives. Being without a chirographic system of communication, you are limited in how you can tell your story in your own words. This is good news and bad news. The good news is this: You will know the joy of recitation, feeling words come to you, breathless, large, in the world, entwined with sea and sky.

The bad news is that those ancestors you need to keep the story straight for won’t be able to recall the stories. They will forget the stories. The bad news is the stories will die as fact and return as myth and many of the wondrous details you painstakingly recorded will be lost to all ears as the land is lost to all eyes.

Just remember: Restrain yourself from going out to the boat.

About Leslie Carol Roberts

Leslie Carol Roberts is the author of Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes from a Life in the Forest (Nevada, 2019) and The Entire Earth and Sky: Views on Antarctica, (Nebraska, 2008; Bison Books, 2012.) Recent work includes the The Gigaton Ice Theatre (Performing Ice anthology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020); the Eco-Thoughts column in The Believer magazine (2019-ongoing), and the Late, Great Golden State, published by The Bellingham Review. In 2018, she founded the ECOPOESIS project with two architects, Adam Marcus and Christopher Falliers, which creates messaging and forms around climate change. They hosted ECOPO 1 in SF in 2019, with the philosopher Timothy Morton as their invited guest and discussant; in the summer of 2019, Leslie was on the road in France and the Maldives conducting research and interviews around ecologies as part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab, of which she is a member. In 2020-21 Leslie is a Resident Artist with the Al Balad Fellowship in the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, enacting ECOPOESIS around desert landscapes. She gives talks and workshops in the US and abroad around writing and form-making around ecologies --with ecologies being defined broadly to include the instantiated systems of neo-liberal capitalism that allow for the destructive, cruel, and disastrous environmental systems of these times -- from extraction technologies to instantiated racism, misogyny, and income disparities. Over her international career in journalism and creative writing, Leslie has written hundreds of news stories, features, and essays for newspapers, magazines, and journals, in the U.S. and abroad, including The Christian Science Monitor, The Bangkok Post, The St. Petersburg Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Iowa Review online, Ascent, and The Bellevue Literary Review. Roberts, a Fulbright Fellow, is Professor and Chair of MFA Writing at California College of the Arts. An avid outdoors-human and traveler, she is at work on two books -- one continues her work in the Antarctic humanities and the other is a gothic feminist horror novel. You can reach Leslie at leslier7@gmail.com


One thought on “A Letter to the First Poet of the Presidio

  1. I understand, it reminds me that culture is always changing and important, but that survival is always the number one priority.

    Posted by Adan | March 28, 2012, 5:15 pm

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