In late 1992, as bronze sculptor Peter Bevis finished his forensic impressions of animal victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, he asked me to compose a sonic background to his upcoming Anchorage and Seattle showings. I told him I thought the background should have the words of people involved in the spill, and in the gathering of the dead animals he had cast. He agreed. I commissioned Alaska poet Ann Chandonnet to write four verses that were inter-related. Peter’s show opened at the Alaska Gallery of Contemporary Art in March, 1993. I dedicated the work then to Rick Steiner, who wrote his first post for firedoglake Friday.

If you click on the title of each of the verses, you are taken to my garage band page. Click on the green forward arrow. A new window opens. You can then go to the old window, and click back and read the words, as the music plays:

Shadows

by Ann Chandonnet

1. Mechanism/Organism

Waves of memory.
Welding things together.
A wake for a wake.
Waves breaking on black rocks
around Bligh Reef.
Breaking.
A thrum of engines.
Breaker, breaker.
It’s Valdez back.
It’s Valdez back.
No matter where you went it was black.
Slick waves breaking.
A thrum of engines.
We’re leaking some.
Going to be here awhile.
Waves breaking black and thick.
We’re going to be here awhile.
And if you want to say you’re notified.
Over.
Russian roulette.
It’s not a matter of “if.”
It’s a matter of “when.”
Slick waves breaking.
Dark rocks.
Dead on the beaches, all curled up.
Some of those still alive are blind.
Over.
Russian roulette.
Over.
It’s not a matter of “if.”
We’ve fetched up,
And we’re going to be here awhile.
Sad is too mild a word.
The high costs of being here.
But we’re going to be here awhile.
Slick rocks,
Waves crashing.
Dark foam, dark rocks, slick.
No matter where you went it was black.
Dead on the beaches, all curled up.
Organism against mechanism.
Sad is too mild a word.
Hundreds of variables.
A thrum of engines.
Awake.
Over.
Awake. Hundreds of variables!
Over.
A wake, a spreading pool.
Over.
Russian roulette.
Over.
Thousands of possible scenarios:
night, engines, ice;
single hull, dark waves, a reef beneath.
The cry of gulls.
Rock against metal,
hands against a flood,
organism against mechanism.
Should be on your radar there.


2. The Places of Animals

caves of watery light
pearly grottoes
hollows
shallows
the flutes of shells
caves
grottoes
hollows
pristine shallows
cathedrals of waving kelp where the sun spreads like honey
fragrant spruce boughs
clean beach sand
gleaming ripples
spawning silvers and kings
caves, hollows
pristine shallows where yellow-legs dart
cohos
cathedrals of kelp where honey ripples
the flutes of shells
slick feathers
sleek fur

surfing seals
Breaker, breaker.
No matter where you went it was black.
The pearls that were their eyes.
There’s a feeling of insult when a bird comes in just sopping with oil.
A feeling of insult.
No question about it.
It was so gross.

No matter where you went it was black.
We cried a lot.
People would come up and say,
“We just can’t catch any more birds,”
and break out sobbing.
It’s beyond imagination.
The pearls that were.
I have wounds all over my hands from loons.
Once, I set a tape cassette on a rock, and the rock began to crawl away.
It was a seabird caked with oil.
A cormorant broke a hole in its breast trying to get clean.
It’s beyond imagination.
Slippery, dead.
It was so gross.
We cried a lot.
The red eyes of loons.
We have to deal with birds, so we’ve got these tree huggers taking care of them.

$89,000 to save one sea otter.
What’s an animal’s life worth?
The rock began to crawl away.
It was so gross.
A cormorant holed her breast (single hull).
Deer curled up.
The only way we could identify a lot of the birds was by their beaks.
Single hull.
$89,000 to save one otter.
We have to deal with birds, so we’ve got these tree huggers.
No one wants to disturb the goose that’s laying the golden egg.
I have wounds all over my hands from loons.
By their beaks you shall know them.
By the wounds.
By the stench.
Washing rocks, one by one.
What’s an animal’s life worth?

3. Dirge

Sharp beaks of tools.
Wounds all over.
Sad is too mild a word.
Slippery memories.
The limit of our memory wounds us.
Hundreds of variables wound us.

Sharp beaks of tools.
Hammers, the hiss of molten steel.
It’s Valdez back.
And we’re going to be here awhile.

Our memories are short.
It’s the limit that frightens me.

This silence,
this feeling of insult.
Hundreds of variables bumping into rocks.
Thousands of scenarios.
Memory’s slippery,
So we forget.
Their pattern of behavior is one of denial.

Sad is too mild a word to say for what we are losing.
Hundreds of slippery variables.
Denial.
Forgetting.
Forging ahead.
The limit of our memory.

Sad is too mild.
Stings your eyes.

Hauled out, curled up.

Sharp beaks of tools.
Stings.
Organism against mechanism.
The single hull against the double helix.
Awake?
Shadows of seals surfing.
A cormorant tearing its own breast, wanting to be clean.
Sad is too mild a word.

Waves of memory: welding things together,
breaking them apart.

Holing its breast.
Harbor seals surfing.
Sad is too mild.
The hiss of laden breakers,
the hiss of the viper of energy,
the hiss of the viper of progress,
the dazzle of the welder’s arc,
the dazzle,
cormorant hissing—holing her own breast.

Sharp insult.
Denial.
Denial.
The limit of our memory.
Sad is too mild.
Stings your eyes.
Hauled out, curled up.
Sharp beaks of tools.
Stings.

Organism against mechanism.
Single hull against double helix.
Awake? Are we awake?
Shadows of seals surfing.

4. Remembrance of Animals

Curled up.
Some otters were blind. They swam around bumping into rocks.
Curled up, dark waves, dark rocks.
Run, hurry!
We need a permit to save otters,
but Fish and Wildlife has put us on hold.
They deny there is an emergency.
Deny.
Brain damage.
The die is cast.
No question about it.
These gorgeous mountains in sunlight,
but there is this silence.
No emergency.
The die is cast.
Run, hurry!
On hold.
Welding things together,
breaking them apart.
Run, hurry! It’s bad!
On hold.
No one wants to disturb the goose that’s laying the golden egg.
Well, the otters would survive as a species,
so why worry about a few individuals?
Their cries like the cries of human infants.
Curled up, breaker, breaking.
We worked with our hands. This hastened the healing.
You know, otters are a lot like kids.
Some liked squid.
Others wanted shrimp and clams.
Some wouldn’t eat their haddock.
It’s bad.
Scoters and golden-eyes. Curled up.
Why worry about a few individuals?
The otters’ plaintive cries,
their tender paws,
mothers cooing to their pups.
Some like squid.
Some wouldn’t eat their haddock.
Scoters and golden-eyes, ravens.
The rock began to crawl.
No emergency.
350,000 birds.
Got these tree huggers to deal with….But I’ll keep
them in line.
Brain damage.
No emergency.
And if you want to say you’re notified.
Over,
350,000 birds.
1,016 sea otters.
An undetermined number of seals and whales.
350,000 birds, including 151 adult bald eagles.
Going to be here awhile?
It’s a matter of when—again.
You’re notified.
Breaker, breaker.
Over.
Over.
Yeah.
Should be.
Over.