|Today, as the news continue to
speak of the quake and the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima that is causing
so much suffering in Japan, and no doubt will continue to do so, in that
country and beyond it, I have read again, carefully, a letter Cid Corman
wrote in early 1995.
He speaks about the earthquake in
Kobe, a town not far away from Kyoto where he lived for so many years…
“...the quake. It scared us shitless
– to put it bluntly. Poor Shizumi still goes to bed – a fortnight later
– with a satchel full of necessities beside her. […] The issue
in Kobe – as in every natural catastrophe (the floods in yr lowlands
now) […] – is not to level blame at people, etc., but to help in every
way possible AT ONCE, learn from the event whatever can be learned, and
prepare better. Floods are an ancient commonplace, but what country/people
has ever spent as much on floodcontrol as on military outlays? The pre-Columbian
inhabitants of Mexico City did better than we today. And there are signs
of the same in ancient Mesopotamia […]”
Isn’t that to the point? Not to
BLAME, but to CHANGE THINGS, learn FROM THE PAST, for the sake of THE FUTURE?
Cid wanted it, believed in it, lived
like that – and was still pessimistic. Would man, would mankind, the oi
polloi, the masses LEARN ? even if you and me, this and that individual
would learn from past mistakes, from terrible shortsightedness, the fact
that patently WRONG CHOICES had been made?
O yes, it’s essential that we all
learn. Everyone of us. Civil society, as they say today.
We know that to place nuclear power
plants in regions where big quakes are likely is madness.
We know that for seventeen years,
Tokyo Electric falsified reports of safety checks, that it failed to check
whether emergency equipment that might be needed to generate electricity
for the cooling system would work properly.
We know the barriers that were intended
to protect the Fukushima nuclear power plant from the effect of tsunamis
We know the reactor type was deficient
from the beginning, and designed like that for reasons of so-called cost-effectiveness.
We know the same concern for “cost-effectiveness”
caused the partial meltdown in Harrisburg. The authorities had been warned
ahead of the castastrophe that an accident was likely.
We know that a safety measure that
would have cost BP an additional 500,000 US-$ would have made it much more
unlikely that the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico would have happened.
We know or could know about this
engrained tendency of private corporations and bureaucracies to work together,
create a business-friendly “investment climate” that shifts the risks on
the shoulders of people generally and the environment.
But what do we learn from it?
What action do we take?
How do we change the way things
At the time Cid wrote, the tragedy
in Yugoslavia was on our minds.
Today, the tragedy in Gaza is still
vividly remembered. And what about the suffering in the Congo, Colombia,
in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Bahrain, in Yemen, in the West Bank? …to
single out only the most blatant examples.
No, let’s not concentrate on BLAMING
Let’s ask, What can we learn? How
can we change things? How do we want to proceed?
In 1995, Cid saw it all as part
of the human predicament, something that baffled him, that he rejected,
and that still seemed such a repeated and almost inescapable fact:
“[…] why people who have lived as
neighbors so many years suddenly feel it their duty to KILL their neighbors
baffles me. All they do is deepen rifts for ensuing generations and
guarantee more needless killing.
But this is the oldest of human
stories – no doubt earlier than killing animals for food. Who but man –
godlike man (to cite Homer)(of his best men yet!) – wd breed animals in
ORDER to kill and eat them! For this we need intelligence? Pandas long
since – China the most communist utopian-idealistic nation – have evidently
taken too much space up in the vastest of lands! And if they are to live
must live in zoos. One day our great machines will create an Eden menagerie
for the remaining human beings. That is, if human beings arent auto-destructed
by then. AND the only planet that harbors or CD harbor life as we know
We are self-doomed in every sense.
We neither know how to live with life NOR death. And there is no
true sign we ever will want to know. […]”
Yes, the pessimism is there, in
us. The realization that throughout history some people have again and
again warned or revolted against the self-destructiveness that is a part
and a possibility present in man. And still, we know, the wheel of history
has kept turning, the mill that squashes human bones…
And still there is hope, isn’t it?
Seasoned hope, conditioned, open-eyed, not blind to the contradictions
and difficulties, the obstacles:
“Best NOT to generalize about people.
Yes, there are cultures, conventions, habits, prejudices, more than enough
native stupidity everywhere for everyone. But far more ALIVE and TRUE to
face each other and oneself openly and honestly and fully as our paths
cross or we bring ourselves to make them cross. Often I have found, sadly,
that those who are eager to help people in other countries – with money
and/or goods or even work/presences – are incapable of knowing their own
neighbors or even family members.”
Cid Corman whom I remember as I
hear the news of the quake in Japan and as I read, again, his letter speaking
of the quake in Kobe, was a tender person, I know. He was also, like myself,
like many of us, a poet who always had trouble to make ends meet. And who
didn’t complain, but thought about giving. And was giving. Attention, love,
Remembering him, I turn again to
his words. That living, from the very first moment, is livingdying. And
that we are at home and not at home, from the beginning: everywhere, on
earth. A fleeting presence.
“I share yr feeling about all people:
I have NEVER turned away from ANYONE for reason of color, race, religion,
etc and never will. Against my nature. And of course I feel at home amongst
the poor, having never been anything else, and very nearly ‘homeless’ except
that for me EARTH is home and so I never can be homeless AS LONG AS I LIVE
or the work I have managed lives. And living means livingdying. […]”
- Andreas Weiland
(Quotes from a letter by Cid Corman, 1st February 1995)