Sermon to the Trash
By Richard Schiffman
Everything passes, said the Buddha,
and I saw it myself on the river–
tennis balls and condoms,
waterlogs and dead dogs,
the mastless schooner of a rubber sandal,
subaqueous plastic bags
rippling their ghoulish curtains,
a belly down, drowned waterfowl
legs splayed, plucked clean by the waves.
But what the Buddha didn’t say
is that everything returns
a few hours later, when the current flips direction,
shuttling eternally in the limbo of the tides.
For life is not a river, but an estuary.
And what is delivered undigested to the sea
is spat back by the sea, whole rafts
of trash sailing upriver
like salmon to the spawning ground.
I saw this as well– the same bloated and
unidentifiable fowl returning like the Antichrist.
The sodden tennis ball bounced back.
The rubber sandal walked
backwards upon the waters.
The condom too was resurrected, a false prophet
returning to the land of its extraction.
As it is written– “Cast thy bread upon the waters,
for thou shalt find it after many days.”
Yet what Ecclesiastes failed to mention
is that man does not live by bread alone,
but by plastics and foam rubber and latex
and spandex and synthetic polymers,
and, lo, every foul and unnatural thing
under the petrochemical sun,
which clogs the primordial waters
like unforgiveness in the heart,
to muck up the spawning grounds of love,
and choke the teeming rapture of the marshes,
and sore rebuke the eyes of the disposer.
Richard Schiffman is the author of two biographies and a widely published poet. He is also a journalist specializing in the environment who regularly contributes to leading publications including The new York Times, Scientific American, the Atlantic, and the New Scientist. His nature poetry reflects his love for the earth and his belief that understanding its threats are the only hope of saving it. This poem was published in Schiffman’s new book, What The Dust Doesn’t Know, Salmon Poetry, 2017. Link here to learn more.