A literary presentation in an environmental studies forum.
|There is no more authentic backstory than the journey of flora. While the veracity of humans’ historical interpretations or recollections always comes into question, the chronicles preserved in plants are wholly reliable, free of subterfuge. Invasive grasses are anthologies of fragmented societies, colonization, and shifting modes of production. Similarly, indigenous shrubs are synopses of extant communities and their persisting customs.
As for urban settings, green spaces function as interludes in the narratives embodied in cityscapes designed for human convenience. In these oases, we might be able to step away, if only for a moment, from the prosaic contours of the city. My sensory compass was forged, in large part, by community gardens and litter-riddled abandoned lots in economically depressed neighborhoods. Those lots were scenes where the wild could be witnessed in its most aggressive stages. It wouldn’t take long for asphalt and concrete to be enveloped by a multitude of organisms, such as birds, mammals, insects, vines and saplings that, if left alone, would work toward reforesting fissured surfaces. The transformation of neglected parcels of land into folios inscribed with vivid descriptions of cleanup events, celebratory gatherings, and continuous seasons of sustainable farming practices is a testament to the unheralded legacy of grassroots activism.
I have found that the polarities between affluent sectors and areas where residents struggle to subsist are greatly pronounced in urban habitats. The socioeconomic disparity is typified by treelined boulevards before expensive properties adorned with toxic herbicide-laden lawns, rigid hedges, and automatic sprinkler systems that waste inordinate amounts of water, contrasted by much less verdant streets in post-industrial districts. This dynamic of inequity also allows for gentrification to take hold. Yet outside of the protagonist versus antagonist binary that might conveniently define individuals’ roles, exist radical members of the community. These are much more than peripheral characters. It is their world of humorous and reflective conversations, and small acts of resistance against the forces that would suppress biodiversity, from where I’ve drawn inspiration.
Remnants of age-old traditions abounded when I was growing up in North Brooklyn. Tomato vines protruded from retired bathtubs filled with dark soil next to rough-hewn pigeon coops on tenement rooftops. Backyards of weathered brownstones in redlined neighborhoods hosted medicinal herbs, rows of corn, and other colorful vegetables. My mother’s botanical sanctuary in the living room of our twelfth-floor apartment in a public housing project never failed to awe anyone who entered our humble abode. After we’d return from extended trips, her “daughters,” as she referred to her plants, would arise from dormancy the instant she spoke to them; each one reaching out to her, swaying as she caressed them. I realized, early on, that our collective heritage begins with sunlight eaters.
It was in those eclectic surroundings where I developed an affinity for the ostensibly unremarkable, like everyday interactions that make for memorable banter and collaborative efforts. The desire to share life-affirming lessons I’ve been fortunate to learn along the way, as well as the need to portray people’s contradictory nature permeates my free verse and fiction. I want to continue our ancestral oral tradition wherein the significance of our relationship with ecosystems, the very sources of our intellectual and spiritual health, was passed down through untold generations as anecdotes or cautionary tales. Though my homage to fables and folklore is in written form, creating stories with engaging plots and palpable imagery is still the objective.