Archival Features, Poems

Martha Silano: “Ours”

I’m not the first person who’s longed to write a poem where Earth and its inhabitants are presented to a being who has no clue about us, and for years I thought about letting loose my inner Margaret Mead right here on my own home turf. My initial attempts to create anthropologist-like poems failed, perhaps because while they shared cool stuff about our “lil” planet, they didn’t add up to much. These failed attempts taught me that I needed to push beyond mere pond side/ highway median reportage. As I began “Ours,” I fell into conveying a more furtive stance which quickly became a shaping mechanism for the poem—I was amused and intrigued by our business-as-usual systems of greed, waste, and overconsumption . . . and war-making.  But more importantly, I was pissed. As I wrote this poem, I was asking myself questions like: when we do find intelligent life forms on some yet-undiscovered exoplanet, will they be torturing each other? Making art? Will they have creation myths? Pilates Nazis? We’ve become fairly accustomed to the concept of life springing spontaneously from a primordial soup, but could the concept of upward mobility or the notion of forming a nudist colony emerge from a similar broth-like concoction?  I know it was rather presumptuous of me, speaking for all humanity, picking and choosing what I decided to “tell” the imagined space alien, but how much more so than Carl Sagan and his team creating The Golden Record for the Voyager space probes back in 1977? As it must’ve been for them, I found it very satisfying to sum up, casually and candidly, our planet and its most destructive, whacked-out species.  (Martha Silano)


contains the metal-ripping croak
of a wader who eats its prey whole;
also a frog resembling a leaf, the male’s
throat stuffed with its tadpole young;
we have tapeworms that latch
to intestinal walls, each segment self-
replicating. I guess we’re all about making
more. And Styrofoam. And toilet paper.
We take pictures of empty parking lots
to show that sometimes they want us straight,
and sometimes they want us diagonal. Sculpt
from wood a human head, a headscarf
shrouding it, but stop me, I hardly know you.
+++++Okay, if you insist. We have pancreatic juices,
Extreme Shampoo for the dead cells shooting
from our non-wooden heads, and we have music,
magnetism, and dreams. We can drive forever
past nothing but wheat or corn, but then Mumbai,
22,000 people per square mile. Do you have
hobbies? Our favorite’s folding paper into cranes;
we also love horses, and wiping each other out.
Our creation myth? A pool of acid and sugar
walked into a cave, began to paint on walls.
Has anyone mentioned fear?
+++++Where am I going? Crazy. Wanna come?
as my mom used to say, which is replication; mostly,
as I’ve said, what we do. We believe in money,
random mutation, though greed screws everything up.
But that Calder in Michigan—The Grand Vitesse?
that’s the kind of upward mobility we all can relate to.
+++++We pilate; we retreat, heal ulcers
with maggots; we nudist colony, vanilla
to Cozahome till wakened by a child’s who made
this world?
We’d like to be kissed and kissed
by a good kisser, touched and loved in a shade
of lipstick that becomes us. Invent new names
for cities and birds. To carry our young like a leaf-
like frog. Our world is an oven; we are the temperature.

Martha Silano‘s most recent book of poems is The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception, chosen by Campbell McGrath as the winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Martha teaches composition and creative writing at Bellevue College.

Additional work from Martha Silano will appear in the forthcoming Spring/Summer (v6.n1) issue of Poetry Northwest.