The Artist Abroad

Escape from Planet Earth

/ 11:48 PM September 17, 2019

NEW YORK—Though I never saw this musical, Stop the World—I Want to Get Off, the title encapsulates perfectly my current feelings about the state of our planet. Everything seems to be going to the dogs, though that phrase is patently unfair to dogs, given how much more humane they seem when compared to many of the world’s leaders.


My feelings of hopelessness, of being boxed into a corner and hence the fervent desire to abandon Earth, have been stoked by two anniversaries. Last week was the 18th anniversary of the Twin Towers burning and collapsing in a massive heap of dust and steel, and ash and bone flew through the air. Another plane struck the Pentagon, and the fourth hijacked airliner crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

And this September 21st will mark the 47th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in 1972 by Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, when the island nation experienced 14 years of unforgiving darkness, the country incurred massive debts, and the exodus of bright, energetic and desperate Filipinos began in earnest, with the diaspora today made up of at least a tenth of the Philippine population of 110 million.


Eighteen years on, and the United States is mired in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ISIS and the Taliban have proven to be resilient, and white supremacists have crawled out of the slime, emboldened by a racist, dim-witted president. Trump, denying the reality of climate change, has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accord, suggested nuking storms as they form, and drastically loosened environmental regulations at a time when the Amazon is burning, polar ice caps are melting, and hurricanes are stronger than ever. Coal is now being marketed as a clean energy source, and plastic is being ingested by whales. Suicide on a global scale.

The toxic combination of physical and psychological destructiveness brings to mind Robert Frost’s eerily prescient poem, “Fire and Ice”:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,


I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

For his part, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is doing his damnedest to be Marcos Redux, and worse. More extrajudicial killings have been carried out in his three years of governance than in the entirety of Marcos’s reign: Between 5,500 and 30,000-plus murders, compared to 3,257 known extrajudicial killings for the latter.

The foul-mouthed penny-ante head of state no doubt considers it a compliment to be seen in the same light as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, his putative patron Xi Jinping of China, his compadre Donald Trump, Victor Orban of Hungary, and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. Nobody has accused any of these men of harboring visions of a unified and enlightened humanity.

William Butler Yeats’s great poem “The Second Coming” puts it perfectly:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed , and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

In what is believed to be his last poem, before he was executed, gangland-style, by a military informer in 1976, in the third part of his “Open Letters to Filipino Artists”—referencing a famous Robert Frost line— the poet-turned-NPA guerrilla Emmanuel Lacaba creates a moving paean to a borderless humanity, one united against the populist tyranny that plagues our world and threatens to balkanize us:

We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.
We are homeless and all homes are ours.
We are nameless and all names are ours.
To the fascists we are the faceless enemy
Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:
The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.

The road less traveled by we’ve taken—
And that has made all the difference:
The barefoot army of the wilderness
We all should be in time. Awakened, the masses are
Here among workers and peasants our lost
Generation has found its true, its only home.

From demagogues’ mouths, words are snakes, poisoning the better angels of our nature, making it all the more imperative to remind ourselves that words, particularly poetry, can uplift, can empower, can make us rediscover our humanity at times when it seems lost.

Copyright @ L.H. Francia 2019

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TAGS: 9/11 anniversary, destruction, poetry, political crises, Twin Towers, wars, world problems
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