On the first day of ninth grade my biology teacher told us that Joni Mitchell’s lyrics “We are stardust” are scientifically accurate as well as poetic. From the calcium in our bones to the iron in our blood , every element on earth was created deep in the heart of an ancient, massive star. Thus, we are indeed stardust. While Joni Mitchell expressed this sentiment in her song “Woodstock” to symbolize the connection she felt with her generation, scientific theory attests that such a connection exists between all things on this earth. I am reminded of all of this when I read these lines on page 9 from Juliana Spahr’s “Poem Written After September 11/2oo1”:
The space of everyone that has been inside of everyone mixing
inside of everyone with nitrogen and oxygen and water vapor and
argon and carbon dioxide and suspended dust spores and bacteria
mixing inside of everyone sulfur and sulfuric acid
Our class discussion regarding this poem left me thinking a lot about the idea of connectedness. As others observed, the way Spahr’s poetry illustrates this concept of connectedness can lend itself to inspiring or saddening interpretations. Portions of the poem are magnificently uplifting as they tie together descriptions of cells and hands with oceans and the troposphere. Yet the conclusion of the piece introduces “pulverized glass and concrete” as a heartbreakingly vivid illustration of 9/11 and the drawbacks of connectedness. I spent a while puzzling over the line:
How lovely and how doomed this connection of everyone with lungs
I could not decide if the poem filled me hope or sorrow. I had been attempting to label this grand idea of interconnectedness as either positive or negative. I eventually realized that I was approaching the idea and the poem in a way that was too narrow-minded. This is not an either/or situation. Spahr is telling us that we are at the same time lovely and doomed by the fact that we are all joined together so inherently. Doomed because despite this intrinsic and universal bond we do harm one another. And lovely because that same timeless connection that dwells between our atoms and all the way up through the mesosphere is what allows us to heal and rebuild.