APROPOS OF CARS AND FREEDOM

I read two poems on CKUT FM’s ‘Radio is Dead?’ on June 20. ‘Oilers’ has been published in Four Minutes to Midnight, and it also exists in audio and video form. ‘The Long Drive’ was published in the British Corporate Watch anthology This poem is Sponsored by … : Poems in the face of corporate power. You can listen to the reading here.

OILERS (slightly revised June 20, 2011)

On average, every human on earth consumes one and a half liters of water per day.

On average, every human on earth consumes two liters of oil per day.

On average, every human in North America consumes eleven liters of oil per day.

I came out of my house one day, stood on the second storey landing and looked up and down the street. Cars lined both sides as far as I could see; and I knew that beyond the horizon, the lines of cars continued, on and on, moving and resting, forever and ever, amen. And I thought, “There were cars when I was born, and there will be cars when I die, and what kind of a world is this anyway?”

It’s what I call “The Deal.”

We agree to be infantile in our response to reality, in exchange for … what?

For instance, the thrill I felt as a child, riding in my uncle’s big black gas guzzler with the tail fins, as we pulled into an A&W drive-in for the first time in my life, and it was JUST LIKE ON TV …

Or my TV moonshot child glee, or

Watching all those tons of Jumbo Jet coming down over my house, trailing black smoke and roar and roar and roar …

And oil was just there, like air, water, or earth, shoving me and my family into our slot at the A&W, or shoving a rocket to the moon, or shoving a jet through the sky.

It’s what I call “The Deal.”

The deal being, we can cry all we want about the war in Iraq, the war in Columbia, the war in Afghanistan … but at the end of the day we’re all supposed to climb back into our cars, and drive back to work. JUST LIKE ON TV. That’s the deal.

Caltex. Gibson Energy. Halliburton. Phillips. Royal Dutch / Shell Group. Austral Pacific Energy. B.P. Global.

I grew up on oil, twisting the parked Volkswagen steering wheel oil, shuttling from one town to the next oil, Richelieu plastic ice cream tub oil, tupperware, gas mower, car to mall, car to work, car to school, car for work, car for pleasure, but car, always car, car, car, car …

Southern Ontario, early eighties, we all smoked those oilers. Those little glass tubes with thick greeny-black goo, heat it and spread it on a rolling paper and smoke it with tobacco and all that tar and nicotine and cannabinoids go coursing down into the lungs. We’d smoke all those oilers and then tool around in Hackey’s old car, southern Ontario, early eighties.

Callon Petroleum Company. Occidental Petroleum Company. Anadarko Petroleum Company. Kuwait Petroleum Company. Berry Petroleum Company.

Sandy was an oilman and he came to the east coast in the early eighties when oil prices were over thirty a barrel and offshore exploration was just starting up, and who remembers the Rowan Gorilla? Figured he could get on the offshore trip. He applied here and there and he waited and he waited and he waited and he waited and he waited and he waited and he waited and he waited and then he went back to Alberta, where there’s plenty of oil, plenty of oilmen, and plenty of oil jobs.

Franklin was a sailor and he got a job with some oil company back in the early eighties and he flew out to Japan and came back on a brand new supertanker that was three or four football fields long. Then Franklin went north on a Korean-built ice breaker that cost fifty million dollars and he supplied the oil exploration platforms on the Beaufort Sea. Until the third time he was almost killed on the job, and then even two hundred dollars a day wasn’t enough to keep him up there, and he came back to Nova Scotia and drove a milk truck.

As for the oil platforms in the Beaufort Sea, when the price of oil went down again the oil companies abandoned them, abandoned tens of millions of dollars of equipment up there, it was cheaper than getting them out again. All that shit’s still up there.

Western Petroleum Company. Iraq Petroleum Company. Teton Petroleum Company. Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago.

And it was oil for the military, and oil for the carnival, and sleepy late night oil for the parking lot job, and it was oil for the bus that went from east to west, and it was oil for the city buses criss-crossing Vancouver, and oil for the minibus that went from west to east again, oil for every plane ride, train ride, car ride, every bit of food I put in my mouth, oil for every album, cassette, CD, oil for the clothes on my back, and it’s so normal to fly three thousand miles, it’s so normal to think shrink those distances daily, it’s so normal, it’s so normal, shit you buy at the depanneur normal, Mission to Mars normal.

But oil, always oil, wake up with oil and sleep deep at night in dark pools of oil. Breathe oil, eat oil, shit oil and fuck oil. Love your momma and your papa oil. Leaving on a jet plane oil. She’s got a ticket to ride oil. Baby you can drive my car oil. Love is a stranger in an open car oil. On the road oil. Fear and loathing in Las Vegas oil. I get up every morning oil and look up and down the street oil, every street’s lined with cars oil. Oil.

Never mind the Columbian cartels, the Mexican narcodollars, the Afghani poppy farms. Oil is the real drug, oil is the real addiction, the rest are just window dressing when you’ve got PVC fetish gear oil, plastic shopping bags blowing in the tree branches oil, seagull head trapped in plastic six pack rings oil, Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise oil, every slick new computer DVD XBox something plastic casing oil, flying flying flying whether it’s to the WEF or to the WSF oil, and gridlock, gridlock, everywhere you look, gridlock oil lock oil.

China National Petroleum Corporation. Turkish Petroleum Corporation. Abraxas Petroleum Corporation. CITGO Petroleum Corporation. BHP Billiton.

Oil is a perniciously addictive substance. Oil and its derivatives: kerosene (shoot those rockets into space for our TV multiverse spy satellite convenience), gasoline (the crack cocaine of the petroleum trade), plastics and polymers (see how far you get in your day without a plastic fix).

Side effects of an oil habit include: filth, grime, cars, concrete, roadways, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, automobile accidents, hit-and-run, drive-by shootings, car bombs, filth, Abrams tanks, Blackhawk helicopters, cell phones, computers, suburbs, factory outlets, factory farms, Wal-Mart, eighteen wheelers, eighteen wheelers, eighteen wheelers, eighteen wheelers, eighteen wheelers, filth, stench, heat, cancer, respiratory diseases, smog, road rage, tourism, Middle East politics, OPEC, G8, Ken Saro Wiwa, Hugo Chavez, Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, filth, Exxon Valdez, geopolitics, globalization, economic growth, global warming, eco-collapse, melting polar ice caps, severe weather systems, filth, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Georgia, Kazakstan, Nigeria, Burma, Alaska, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, war, and eventually, death.

It’s what I call “The Deal.”

THE LONG DRIVE

I wonder what the drive is. The license plate, the cannibal calliope, the rushing flash of flesh, flash of flesh. And nuts make trees sometimes, and sometimes seeds make grass. Because we’re all a part of this carpet called life on earth, wall to wall whatever if there were any walls.

And I’d like to be a bomb, ticking and wound up in a pocket on the way to whatever. I count life out in cigarettes and sterile sperm, my city life, country life gone, gone, long gone and longing’s never gonna get it back again. Because there’s too much time piled up between here and there. Too much history, too much civilization, too much human behavior, windowpanes between me and the weather. A bubble boy at home among all the others of his kind, wondering what sort of bomb could ever take back the centuries before he was born, take back the witch trials, the conquistadores, the monks and hospitals, the ideas that kill, all the ideas that can kill.

Dead corporate officers fall tonight, their days crushed like beercans and old cars, their tailored cuffs dragging in mud the colour of old blood. This curse is for you. I am native to nothing nowhere and so I claim the earth as mine.

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