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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Captain America





Captain America: from Instant Party in Neil Young, 1971

Top four photos: Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) mired in oil from spill, on beach at East Grand Terre Isle, Louisiana coast, Thursday, June 3, 2010: photos by Charlie Riedel for AP, 2010 (via

Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), on shore, Melbourne, Florida: photo by Buddy Moore, 2007

Brown pelican flock in winter migration, with leader changing position, en route from North America to Cuba, over Havana Bay, 26 January 2006: photo by Julio Maldonado Mourelle, 2006


Curtis Roberts said...

Thank you. I needed to see these pictures. As with “gushercam”, but even more so, I've been averting my eyes. (Actually, so has most of the television coverage, which has featured the wildlife devastation only in brief snippets.) As for the title of the poem and consideration of America's exact role in this, my thoughts are too complicated to put down concisely at this point. However, by habit of analysis I would like to see specific fault and culpability identified (assuming US oil consumption doesn’t cease immediately, it’s a logical step in trying to prevent future disasters) and for dire consequences to follow. This can’t be just another obscuring public relations event of history, which is the reflexive defense mode of whatever government is currently in power, and is what is happening right now.

TC said...

Well, Curtis, as landfall of the oil begins to occur, it appears from this graphic evidence the dire consequences are not far to seek for certain species.

Yes, it's hard to look at these pictures, yet I think unavoidable.

Just what in the long winding path of evolution could have prepared the biological defense systems of Pelecanus occidentalis for this?

Meanwhile here we are... high and dry yet feeling ever so slightly slimy.

As in the Larkin poem, We'll get up in the morning, other creatures won't.

And drive down to the... whatever.

About the title and text here: they are cultural artifacts of the time of composition (1971). The text, down to the last four words, came verbatim from a tv automobile commercial. The title was at the time common and generic. Like all the rest of the cultural residuum (garbage) of the period, that stuff may as well be pumped into the drillhole for all the good it's doing anybody or anything now. A large cargo but a strong undertow, like a kind of tidal pull of history, dragging it all out and down. Our precious secular mythologies I mean. That goddamn big car & c.

drive, he sd

TC said...

The Death of Captain America: in his final hours he wouldn't be a red-stater or a blue-stater, he'd see the shades of gray and purple advancing from the extremities.

TC said...

I Know a Man: the light at the bottom of the pump, looking just a bit garish.

Curtis Roberts said...

The Brubaker and Simon interviews are fascinating. During my earliest comic reading days, Captain America either wasn't around for a while or wasn't prominent. I absorbed him, however, through the atmosphere, e.g., popular culture, parent references, Mad Magazine. Later there was that unjustly (I thought) criticized Kinks song from the early 1980s, Catch Me Now, I'm Falling, which painted him as an entirely virtuous, but sad and hapless character living in an ungrateful world that was out of his control. When reading your poem the first time, I failed to notice its vintage and origin (the photographs commanded most of my attention), so it's interesting to learn these and to read a powerful, sarcastic attack on big American cars written in 1971 and appearing in a book called Neil Young, a man who collects multitudes of big cars (the “sustainability”-seeking efforts of his engineering enterprise/hobby notwithstanding). I used to see the book in Gotham Book Mart and I’m sorry I never bought it. (I browsed there a lot.) I will seek it out now. I’m sure I remember the ad copy you use as a basis for the poem, though. And it’s nice to see the pink elephants again.

aditya said...

a knife
in the ribs.

This and the "Robert Creeley: I Know a Man " piece. Fantastic stuff.

Is it easier being an asshole?? Or is it easier, sitting at the back seat of your car and telling what an asshole junta is??

I have been at the back seat for long much too long. Poets(i.e. me) are useless. I could borrow this statement of yours. Word by word. Exactly.

TC said...


The song rings as strangely prophetic, a bit of mod Blake tuned to the riff from Jumpin' Jack Flash.

Here 'tis, complete with the death of America on the courthouse steps.

Not the only time
Ray Davies just wanted a gallon of gas.

About Neil's car fleet, dunno. But I do recall hearing a BBC (I think) interview, some years back, with Daryl Hannah, who boasted that 11 of the 17 cars in her European rally fleet were run on green fuels.

Everything is relevant to a rutabaga I guess.

The poem does seem a bit sarcastic. Easy target I suppose. The book, though, actually got reviewed in the Rolling Stone by Ron Silliman.

Perhaps it's time to take up sarcasm again.

No, completely out of gas.



Pretty (to put it too lightly) intense, those photos, poor pelicans (our friends!). Could've been here but instead it's a gull, oil free (for the time being at least), thanks.


silver of sun in grey whiteness of cloud
against ridge, sparrow calling on branch
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

referred to as participation
of particular, that is

surface pattern, depth plane,
to register two things

grey-white cloud against invisible ridge,
wingspan of gull flapping across channel

TC said...


Great to hear the flapping of strong wings. Our friends!!

The whole visceral mimetic sense of flight, weirdly violated, made into a queasy seasick lurch when looking at these photos. We needed that lift. No takeoffs from the muck in the pictures though.


Speaking of mortal vehicles, back of head all through the night, Keats: "...and no birds sing".


Speaking of intellectual distinction and rears of vehicles, I would be honoured to be in a Backseat Junta with you. I think.

Anonymous said...

I think that that's what offends most...the sight of birds grounded. These beautiful creatures of the air dragged down to earth in the most horrible, pointless and senseless way.

I mean, I don't mind shooting a duck I'm going to eat (and have many times) but this is just blasphemous...

TC said...


Yes, the emotional outrage, palpable, one is stunned, helpless, imagining inside a life suffocated, trapped; and with this the spill event moves beyond something that could be measured in flow charts or externalized as statistics.

About lunch...I would try not to shoot a duck. But I would (in fact just did) do in a bagel. Didn't have to kill it, just stunned... that word again.

Curtis Roberts said...

The Keats quote and some of the other reader comments have been in my head all day. I'm cheered to read about Steve's still oil-free flying gulls. Amazing to recall days when Rolling Stone published reviews of poetry books. In 1969, they published a Ray Davies interview by Jonathan Cott, which was the single best interview he ever gave and thoroughly informed by poetry and poetic concerns.

~otto~ said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I could as several more Hs and As to that.

~otto~ said...

(I do not mean to make light of something so serious -- those photos are heartbreaking. But, I'm sorry, the end of the poem made me laugh out loud.)

Nora said...

Thanks for this, Tom.

TC said...


And thanks for dropping by to say so. I've been of two minds about the "wisdom" of displaying these images, which after all reflect suffering, cruelty, barbarity... I suppose I said to myself, if seeing these makes one person walk instead of driving, just once, there's a speck of a chance some future creatures, whether as majestic as these Brown pelicans or simply majestic in some other of Nature's myriad ways, will be spared a bit of such pain. How impossibly, foolishly, unrealistically hopeful.


Yes, amazing isn't it, about there being poetry in Rolling Stone. Indeed for a brief period I was invited by Jann Wenner to edit poetry for that magazine, one of my extensive list of gratis contributions to that great gulf of unknowingness which is American cultural history. I recall being briefly buried under a slush pile of uncategorized short submissions which nobody knew what to do with (though there was a suspicion these might be "poetry"). In that period I was dedicated to promoting the work of unheard-ofs, so that, for example, Billy Collins owes his national high-profile publication debut to the fact I'd never heard of him. But though I gathered a fair amount of unheard-of-verse, only a fraction of it made its way into the august pages of RS before somebody had a better idea of how to use the space to make money.


Jeez, I am relieved more than I can say that somebody has actually LAUGHED at something I (once, anyway) thought FUNNY. Nowadays, to borrow a line from the themesong of Repo Man, I can't find the joke with a microscope, and so find it all too easy to assume nobody else can either. (Until I indulge in the ecstasy of one of your comment threads, that is.)

Of course, the dying bird porn is not funny, in fact it makes me puddle up, in between fits of useless rage and repressed anger.

Against whom? I ask myself... am I not one of those humans too? Does not driving somehow alleviate responsibility?

(My sensible fellow inhouse nondriver is constantly reminding me that even though I don't drive, if everyone else didn't I would also not eat. Which of course, the not-eating I mean, practised on a sufficiently large scale, would in a relatively short time bring about the "final" solution to this annoying little planet problem, the problem of the humans. But I'm holding off suggesting this idea, as I sense its time has not yet come.)

Curtis Roberts said...

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s images (today’s images now) are still with me and, in a way, I’m glad about that. I’m sure they always will be. While doing other things yesterday, I recalled all of our many pelican encounters, which mostly took place near Cabo San Lucas in Baja Sur, where these birds are everywhere all the time, swooping, diving, fishing and sitting on boat docks. I remembered how many dreams I’ve had about them and that the times we’ve spent in their company just watching their endless aerial parade were like all-day dreams. Watching them took away any need to speak. I spoke to a person yesterday who had just returned from Brazil, where she travels regularly to visit family. She said that her fellow plane passengers included various US employees of BP who work on rigs in Brazil and are currently rotating to the US on a fortnightly basis to work on the spill. Cathy said they told her that the whole question of capping, “Top Kill”, “Bottom Kill”, etc., was essentially p.r. window dressing (“boob bait for bubbas”, as the late Senator Moynihan memorable put it in another context), and that it had been clear all along to anyone knowledgeable in this area that the only possible remedy lay in drilling the two relief wells, which is where the serious efforts are being concentrated. I am not knowledgeable, but that makes sense to me. Horribly.

human being said...

just this morning i saw that picture of the pelican 'imprisoned' in oil... in a shared item in my reader... i was filled with deep sorrow... anger... and lots of other emotions... i wanted to say something but i couldn't... just feeling a big lump in my throat...

your poem (also your choice of photos) as aditya rightfully described was like a knife... cutting me loose from that lump of emotions...
thanks for being the 'mouth' of our souls...

i share this in my reader with other friends...


TC said...

"... I remembered how many dreams I’ve had about them and that the times we’ve spent in their company just watching their endless aerial parade were like all-day dreams. Watching them took away any need to speak..."

"...i wanted to say something but i couldn't... just feeling a big lump in my throat..."

Speechless wonder, speechless horror. If only we could return to the wonder and erase the horror.

(Swimming back up Niagara Falls.)

human being said...

if only...

nothing is impossible... we can return there... not with a backward motion... perhaps we should evaporate and rain down again...

Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking... from every point of view. How can we humans feel so omnipotent and selfish as to think we own this planet? How have we come to this? Will we ever re-connect with Mother Nature or will we wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth before we can succeed in changing our attitude?

Too many questions... Too many innocent creatures involved :(

TC said...

hb and Lucy,

It's bracing to hear your two bright strong voices, in this time of pain and question it gives me hope for the human.

Your voices come from places very far from the centers of world power, making me think that perhaps the only clarities achieved amid the muck and doubt of these days will have to be achieved from a distance.

"Too many innocent creatures..."

"perhaps we should evaporate and rain down again..."

"Heartbreaking... from every point of view"

human being said...

and for us hope is you... and people like you... who live in the center of the world power but their hearts beat for humanity and all the beauties of the world...

Nora said...


I'd been avoiding looking at images out of the gulf -- it's just too horrifying, and I never drive anyway, so I'm excused, right? (Never mind my twice-yearly flights back east to visit family and my near-monthly trips north to visit my grandmother in BC).

But honestly, I think it is important to look, both to bear witness and to remember that this is real, in amongst all the fake news stories and unimportant data we're fed all day. And that's one of the things poets do, right? Remind us to pay attention?

aditya said...

Would be lovely to be anywhere with you. I too would never prefer the rear of a vehicle.

"perhaps we should evaporate and rain down again..."

If only Hb. If only.

You wish and most of the times nothing ever happens. Coz that is how wishes work.

In this part of India, those tiny little house sparrows have gone missing. This has been attributed to the waves our cell phones produce.

And its sad what is happening at the coast at the moment.

If only we had a God up there.

human being said...

if only people knew THERE IS NO GOD UP THERE AND THERE WON'T BE ANY... then they would accept the responsibilities of their actions... then they would understand that every little deed makes a difference... then they would not sit there waiting for things to happen... then they would try to talk to each other... then they would try to join hands... then they would be god...

namaste to you adytia, dear sensitive soul...

here in Tehran recently we had a higher mortality rate because of very powerful parasitic waves used for filtering foreign media...
add this to other 'waves'...

if only...

TC said...


"to bear witness and remember" puts it about right.


Oh my, those electronic waves. Mortality all about.


To keep you company until yours return, I offer you these housesparrows.

TC said...

(Well, Aditya, scarce times, only the one will have to do.)