Adam Zagajewski, "Segesta" (from "En Route")

You only see when you see differently.

Adam Zagajewski, "Segesta" (from "En Route")

Steven Monacelli, "Dallas Has a Problem With ‘Zombie’ Astroturf Groups"

In Dallas, billionaires are funding activists and propagandists who pretend to have grassroots support but are in fact "astroturf." Their organizations do not have popular origins, but make noise and demonstrate precisely where a few can pose as many. They have included a pro-police group, another claiming to be for racial justice and equity, and a generic "anti-LGTBQ+ hate" group. They get coverage from media backed by funders with similar interests, if not the exact same funder. Monacelli mentions the Dallas City Wire and the Dallas Express as two media organizations which amplify and give a veneer of legitimacy to the "astroturf." There's even a term, "pink slime," for posing as local news but in fact advancing a sharply partisan agenda at the expense of reporting.

Someone might say that if rich people are throwing their money at media and advocacy, so what? So what if there are some fake groups that shout harmful lies? They'll be defeated at the ballot box, right?

There's an unspoken belief that money can't buy popularity and legitimacy. And maybe that's ultimately true. But the way money works in politics is by dividing and distracting the opposition. It is risky to try to be popular. It is a lot less risky to make someone else unpopular, to make everyone else seem worse so your interests are the better option by comparison. Putting millions of dollars and plenty of people to work in this enterprise has dark consequences for self-governance. This behavior makes it very difficult for majorities experiencing a common problem to come together and identify that problem and potential solutions. It sows distrust at every stage of trying to articulate and advance a common good.

Adam Zagajewski, "Segesta"

In "Segesta," Adam Zagajewski gifts us with a short, haiku-like fragment. "On the meadow a vast temple— / a wild animal / open to the sky."

Segesta (from "En Route")
Adam Zagajewski (tr. Clare Cavanagh)

On the meadow a vast temple—
a wild animal
open to the sky.

The Italian city of Segesta actually features an ancient temple with Doric orders. It has been said refugees from Troy were the original settlers. But Zagajewski does not necessarily indulge the vastness of a building or the grandeur of its lineage. Why couldn't a meadow, alone, be a holy site?

That's what I'd like to talk about: our sense of the sacred and the sights we see. A lot of people I knew growing up were vocally skeptical about travel. "Why go anywhere? Aren't you grateful for your hometown?" were dominant sentiments. Going out and doing things together were thought an unnecessary chore. The radio, the TV, the newspaper were free. To be fair, I did travel to Europe several times. I don't want to complain about what I took or the aid given me. I do want to say that it would have been nice to appreciate what was at stake. Now that I'm teaching, I see things very clearly. If students don't take the opportunity to see how other people live, to see monuments and lands they've only heard about, they may not get it later. You realize travel and education are essentially complementary when you realize how alien the idea of another country can be.

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Zagajewski brings us to a moment that would not have been alien to the wandering haiku masters of Japan.  "On the meadow a vast temple"—perhaps we are talking about the mammoth temple, hulking over the landscape, defiant in its age. Or, again, maybe we're just talking about a meadow. There are those moments when we're traveling which we would take for granted if in the midst of our everyday routine. Moments like the sky being a gorgeous pink before a sunset, or a field seeming to go on endlessly. I hear, as I say this, a voice telling me I'm not grateful enough. If I were, there would be no need to go anywhere. But I suspect that wonder is not self-generated. You only see when you see differently.

"[A] vast temple— / a wild animal / open to the sky." If we are speaking about a building, then it is a wonder that it became part of the organic landscape. It is open to the sky not because of the absence of a roof, but because of its sheer, wild presence. It's almost as if the natural world cannot imagine itself without the temple. I think of my memories of home, how my mind fills in the places where trees I knew once stood, where friends and neighbors gathered. The temple is the force of memory, a force so powerful that we do not quite understand the memory.

I lean toward the idea that we shouldn't imagine a temple. The notion of a temple makes the question of the sacred circular. Of course a temple that has persisted for thousands of years is sacred. It is a holy site by definition! What if our sense of the sacred comes from the meadow alone? A place we may not be able to match to memories of home?

I believe we are being placed within the awe of the everyday. The building itself, if we are speaking about it, is a ruin. A structure that is an illusion of structure. The question I want to leave you with is what kind of openness, what kind of wildness, we need for perceiving an area's inherent sacrality. I don't have an answer myself, but I know doesn't work. Wanting to see the world in which one lives can't be thought a bad thing. Another time might have considered it the pinnacle of gratitude.