A noticeable degree
Time accelerates while I shrink, morning once more
a giant’s house I enter, unsure what I’ve come
looking for. In a photo I find online, Svante Arrhenius
has the bearing of a furnace. Using slide rule, pen, ink
and paper made from boreal trees, he performed
the “complex, tedious calculations” demonstrating
the greenhouse effect. The slight percentage of carbonic acid
in the atmosphere may, by the advance of industry, be changed
to a noticeable degree. Which might-could be a boon
he reasoned, imagining orange trees in his beloved Sweden.
Dear Svante, it’s 2019. Last year my country emitted
more than five billion metric tons of CO2. In last night’s
dream-house I tried hiding behind a small door,
but outsize legs and feet gave me away. My grief is
replete with depletions. It’s humongous and comes from
the sea, a soft-bodied thing whose shell like the center
cannot hold. But sometimes—Whist! Aware!—light stitches
the pieces together. I remember an afternoon, a green
heron whose beak an orange stillness made. Whose
eye fixed. Who lured my boat of disgruntlement and plastic,
drifting in B-Flat minor. Charles Keeling might have
been a concert pianist. Instead he traced a hidden theme,
tracked its variations, rising atmospheric CO2. Now
his spectacular curve luminesces off the screen, blue zig-
zags inside red undulations reaching up, up, a glissando’s
accumulating vibrations. Prior to bleaching, stressed out
coral phosphoresces, the knobs, lobes and branches
glowing pink, orange, purple, blue as Mardi Gras beads
stranded in a vast emptying city. Strings and strings
in dumpsters, on roads, our necks once heavy with them.
I remember walking the drunkenness off. I remember
coming to a bridge, coming to think Could I? Arrhenius
built a bridge between branches of science his peers
had rather kept discrete. His first marriage over, he threw
himself into work, checking/re-checking the calculations.
Having calculated the losses another person might have
thrown herself over the railing. Face luminous in the brief
hush of hesitation, the dark of falling. Grief proceeds
by mouthfuls to eat the simplest, most common things.
It pounds the beaches where her body was never found.
More than my lifetime ago Keeling began to take the
measure of things at Big Sur, at Mauna Loa, the air’s
composition changing as rapidly in its way as a leap one
person takes changing everything and nothing, nothing
at all. Coastal air, supple and magnetic, tinged with the
possible and the unknown. Salt, salt, salt, the excitement
and succor of work, meticulous, obsessive work, much
of which never comes to light yet trembles beside us,
voices, silences, nocturnes made of doorways, pages,
strains and cracks and strings upon strings of goodbye.
Sara Burant is the author of a chapbook, Verge. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Ghost Proposal, Ruminate, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Borderlands Texas Poetry Review. As a member of the Red Rebel Brigade, she performs street theater to raise awareness about the climate emergency. Currently, she lives in a yurt in Eugene, OR.