Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Turtles All the Way Down"

This poem came out of the July 7, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from LJ user Ng_moonmoth. It also fills the "reality is illusion" square in my 6-10-15 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Ng_moonmoth.

"Turtles All the Way Down"

In the beginning,
the people of Turtle Island
had all that they needed --
deer and bison and salmon,
corn and squash and beans.

They worked to make things --
practical tools and beautiful ornaments --
and they helped each other whenever
someone had difficulty with a task.

The idea of wealth began
by having enough and then some,
food and other resources saved up
against some future need.

People noticed that too much
of a good thing wasn't so good, and
thus they invented customs such as
the potlatch and the give-away
to restore the balance.

Then people began to value things
other than those needed for survival --
this fur over that one, the feathers of
rare birds for decorating themselves,
shiny stones and nuggets of metal.

The precious metals were heavy, though,
and in time people turned to paper money,
thin and light like the green skin of frogs.
They could carry it more easily, and after all,
the value was any number printed upon it.

People fought over the land and its resources,
took things that did not belong to them,
and hurt each other in the process.

As they hoarded more and more wealth,
even the green frog skins became
too cumbersome for the richest people,
so they turned to coins of air and fire
stored in boxes full of light.

None of it was real anymore;
it had all become an illusion.

But the more wealth there was,
the fewer people who held it, because
it no longer grew from the hard work
of making things or helping each other.
It was just juggling pretty sparks.

Meanwhile, more and more people
went without food or blankets
or even a place to sleep.

For them the gold had lost its glitter,
the green frog skins had lost their allure,
and the sparks were more likely
to light something on fire
than to do any good.

Those things only worked better
than barter when people
had plenty of them.

And so the precious things
became worthless things
simply because there was
not enough of them to go around
in order for people to meet their needs.

More and more people turned away
from the things that they could not get
and returned to the things that
they already had.

They looked at their skills
and traded one person's time
for another person's time
doing different things.

They looked at the possessions
they no longer needed and
shared them or gave some away.

It happened little by little,
in neighborhoods and small towns,
tribes and churches and schools.

People stopped looking up
to those above for guidance
or support or entertainment.
Instead they looked around
to each other for those things.

They found that when they
made more of their own things,
they needed less and appreciated it more.

They made their own clothes and food.
They danced and sang and told stories,
healed the sick and taught the ignorant.
They made friends and fell in love,
made babies and took care of them.

Those who had much but gave little
had been considered rich but now
were considered poor, and pitied.
Those who had less but gave more
had been considered poor but now
were considered rich, and respected.

Once again, the first things that
a young person hunted or grew or made
were not kept but given away, and
everyone made a fuss over the new provider.

It was not a violent revolution,
but a quiet and thorough one,
as the people changed the ways
in which they counted success.

Unhitched from reality, the wealthy
slowly drifted away, like clouds
in the sky high over head,
while the rest of the world
finally got back to their own lives.

Turtle Island sang a quiet song of herself
as her dream trickled through the people
who had come to live on her back.

No matter what they had brought with them,
they could not resist the slow tide of her song,
for now she was all they had to stand upon

and it was turtles all the way down.

* * *


Turtle Island is the indigenous name for North America. "Turtles all the way down" is a phrase for infinite recursion.

"The Green Frog Skin" is an essay about tribal thoughts on cash and capitalism.

Read about the issues of virtual wealth and wealth concentration. This can lead to the rise of a shadow economy.

Alternative currencies exist in many forms. One of those is time, usually measured in work-hours. Understand the fundamentals of alternative currency.

Turtle Island traditionally ran on a gift economy. Potlatches and giveaways are examples of native traditions within this framework.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, economics, ethnic studies, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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