Jane Hirshfield, "Sonoma Fire"

The world is burning.

Jane Hirshfield, "Sonoma Fire"

Re: Nikolas Bowie & Daphna Renan, "The Supreme Court Is Not Supposed to Have This Much Power"

Bowie & Renan's comment in The Atlantic on SCOTUS' power should raise eyebrows, even though it covers a lot of familiar history. The argument—not novel, but not as well-known as it should be—is that we have been living in a period of judicial supremacy for some time. We can only talk about Congress (the formally representative body!) as determining the limits of politics mainly with regard to the Civil War and Reconstruction. In their words:

This annual observance of judicial supremacy [June]—the idea that the Supreme Court has the final say about what our Constitution allows—is an odd affliction for a nation that will close the month ready to celebrate our independence from an unelected monarch. From one perspective, our acceptance of this supremacy reflects a sense that our political system is simply too broken to address the most urgent questions that we confront. But it would be a mistake to see judicial supremacy as a mere symptom of our politics and not a cause.

The problem is that we and our leaders too readily accept the Court's judgment as final, as if we do not have the right to rule ourselves. Bowie & Renan discuss how before the Civil War, Congress was quite open that the Constitution was incoherent on the issue of slavery and that the Courts should be the last to decide the issue, as no one elected them. When the Supreme Court tried to weigh in—i.e. Dred Scott v. Sandford—the backlash catapulted Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency.

Post-Civil War judicial supremacy has been far less than democratic. In Bowie & Renan's words:

In the nearly 150 years since Reconstruction, the thrust of judicial supremacy has continued to be revanchist. Through the 21st century, the justices overwhelmingly have exercised their claim of supremacy over Congress to insulate the wealthy and powerful from federal labor laws, federal voting laws, federal civil-rights laws, federal campaign-finance laws, and federal health-care laws.

Please do read the whole thing. I confess I am very partial to takes on history which show a present concern actually has been an issue for a while, but I failed to connect the dots properly. I know names, places, and events, but I haven't taken the time to consider how this has formed the world in which I live.

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Jane Hirshfield, "Sonoma Fire"

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.

-- from Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice"

The world is burning. Even the fundamentalists who denied climate change a decade ago know this. They just prefer to accept evil, to embrace an apocalyptic, deterministic narrative, rather than change. Change would mean admitting someone else could be correct; that other people have resources, virtues, and insight; that sacrifices are necessary for the common good.

The world is burning, and many more of us witness disasters. Some terrible yet beautiful, others mere horrors. All stealing from us. Hirshfield begins by naming a fire which incinerated scores. Homes, vineyards, trees, grasses, animals, people and anything else imaginable scorched if not vaporized for miles. This is the titular "Sonoma Fire." It was fought by the bravest of the brave, which included prisoners who made as little as $3/hr in a grotesque, murderous, and insolent violation of human rights. The world is burning.

Sonoma Fire (from Poetry)
Jane Hirshfield

Large moon the deep orange of embers.  
Also the scent.
The griefs of others—beautiful, at a distance.

In "Fire and Ice," Frost links "desire" with "fire:" "From what I've tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire." Is the sheer destructiveness of the fire, our inability to address its cause, our ignorance of who and what helps—is all that "desire?" On the one hand, great evils nowadays are the same thing, over and over. Harass enough women online, misogyny becomes normalized. Have enough mass shootings, lawmakers become desensitized and incapable. Etc. On the other hand, the details matter. It does matter how neo-Nazis target others on platforms because platforms have Terms of Service which can be used to fight back. An AR-15 is exceptionally deadly compared to other firearms, which brings many gun owners to gun control. There can be amelioration of our ills, but it feels like the scope and extent of the fire will end it all. It's never as simple as one thing, say "desire," even if that's the proximate cause.

The fire, raging. The "[l]arge moon the deep orange of embers. "The deep orange of embers" always compels. When I was younger, I remember staring at those sparks flying around after a small fire, most arresting when they settled. Their glow was otherworldly. Matter had transformed completely, maybe displaying its true energy. Now Hirshfield presents that glow upon the moon itself. A ghastly beauty. An unconcern, a tragedy so massive, it calls out to the solar system.

Then her attention shifts. "Also the scent." She's been visually overwhelmed by the color orange. Is the scent also orange? It is possible to speak of the smell of smoke as good. I can believe in the midst of disaster there are a few pleasant wafts here and there, but smoke from a wildfire will choke everything. After the fire is gone, the smell lasts for some time. So, yes, a "scent"—a smoke—could also be "the deep orange of embers." Anything initially impressive—a beautiful glow, a hint of incense—is reduced by the fact of devastation.

What does awareness of the scale of loss mean? "The griefs of others—beautiful, at a distance." We know many others are suffering. That their lives, each as rich as any given universe, are flooded with loss and death. The moral moment is peculiar. I want, like Hirshfield, to see the whole fire, to sense the enormity of the wound. I want this so I do not diminish anyone's pain in the least. But that leads to a nearly sublime image, like seeing natural patterns or a wonder like Denali. However, a hint of the messiness of smell, a reminder of everyday problems like taking out the trash, can lead back to each and every grief. That, of course, is a topic for other poems.