Weeds Among Ivy City

Weeds Among Ivy City

An Environmental Epic

By ZaKerra Lance

Do you not weep, O mother Earth, as you hold in your hands the careless greed and abuse of your children? Denying the balance of all creatures, human lording over the non-human as if it is they who hold this their world in their pitiful hands. Does the outcry of their brethren not reach even one ear? Even as they lead their green lives, how can they please you, our Mother Earth when they do not stop to listen to your most sacred wishes? O joy to the Mother Earth as just one body steps forward to discover the harmonies of Earth. Just but this one is needed to lead the many as he discovers in himself a touch from you our gracious Mother Earth. Yet, will the weight of each word from your quivering lips prove more than the body of simple human man can bear?

Bishop stands choking; the injustice catches in his throat. Bishop stands lost; searching for a way back to his home. This is not the America he knows. The poison filling the streets so close to his own. The wails of tragedy and grief cannot truly denote.

He runs, faster than their sound of despair. This is not what he meant at all; never before has the environment been a concern. This was not to be his fight’ but how blindly he dives into this world for love. Yet this truth, had always been there.

He gazes into his mind’s eye, back to where he started. To where breath was not labored. To where the emptiness of suburbia filled the ear. This place which kept him blind to what exists beyond its walls. Where all he loved had departed.

Our nation’s capital, in the heart of this district, he did reside. Georgetown, Washington D.C., in an apartment brick red. Here the prices rose as high as each building, and the smog of traffic rose higher still. From this place to his heart you could not divide.  

Bishop had no troubles nor worries to start. Young and degree-wielding he held power in this place. He rose above others in his generation; with riches from his work in the Georgetown hospital to the gold which made up his heart.

As he assisted the therapy for those in pain, they all watched. Or would it better be said that they fawned? With eyes of a doe, his admirers wondered how much he was human. Yet his weakness to just this woman one had their godly reveries debauched.

Like such the flower, she grew and twined; all around him and his everything did Lily soon become. For her he did stumble over the strength he possessed before. Only in her absence was Bishop sure to keep a clear mind.

One of Howard University’s finest, she shined in his eyes. For her third year a grad, she studied furiously in the sciences biological. So it did not take long for her to become a part of his Georgetown world. Their distance was met with despise.

Now Bishop remembers, all he felt then was joy. As if he had been missing his heart, she came into his home giving it a beat. Closeness, love, life; all he wanted and all that he thought she’d gave. So far gone now, it seems to have been but a ploy.

She wore it well, this mask of one that might care. Yet she was not here with him, as children suffocated in their own homes; here where there is no green left to save. He could not be the voice, nor those who lost it in the fight, of life never there.

Bishop swirls in his memories, yet again. Back to the flower which led him on the mission for all of the fruits of Mother Earth. She had changed him, he could not deny. He changed himself further still. If only he knew it then.

A new way to pass her time, soon Lily came upon. A technician for a lab said to protect the earth. Measurements in our air, reports on water and its health. Employers near Capitol Hill, most unknown, but from them her new interest clearly dawned. 

Chimes Lily, his love, “Come with me my dear; we will make a change, to ourselves and to our world.” The environment was her new fascination. So his journey began, his life anew. Not knowing where this change would him steer.

“Environmentalists” she sings; an eagerness akin to that of a child. Set aside the previous ways of meat and furor trash of plastics and glass. Of this he’d truly heard, thought Bishop, just one look into her eyes his loyalty she surely beguiled.

Bishop did away with foods which had a face. He nourished earthly friends, with all the waste of his day. All which had organic roots. His body did well, yet his mind did wane. He could not find within himself the need this life to chase.

On the news, he saw that to this stance there was more. Protests and rallies and lobbyists and legislation; the environmentalists needed their voices heard. Through history this stretched, the actions against earth and her children anyone would abhor.

His recollection of Lily, this mentioning, was vague. Their trips to protest for the land and trees of D.C. he must have missed. So ardent she seemed, her worked so bringing utter delight. Behind her example he followed, a commitment he could not renege.

All Bishop would do is show her, came to him this new plan. She must not know all that could be done. “Hadn’t your work, your employer shown you these injustices?” He prodded one night. “Did your reports not show the destruction of man?”

His love, his flower Lily, then did catch fire. How could he ever doubt the good work she does? How could he and his lackluster environmentalism accuse; when it was she who opened his eyes? It was her work to which he should aspire.

Surely he was mistaken; never could he question his love again. He continued to watch and listen, soon seeing correlation. Did not his love work on such a report? Had she not gushed of all her greatness? So why do they still suffer there then?

No threats to health had been found. This declared by Lily on research close to her heart. Ivy City of D.C. had air clean; the zooming traffic had no effect on their lungs. Yet the residents here did not agree; their protest loud and clear began to resound.

A walk is all he needed, time to clear his head. To the Georgetown Waterfront Park he wandered, coming to a grassy spot just his own. “I have given up so much in order to please,” Bishops says out loud. No one here but him to decipher what he’s said.

“To me,” he said, “It is a clear choice. Lily is my love, and as an environmentalist I have done enough.” Then Bishop gave a start; someone must have crept to this secretly space. For suddenly, without seeing its owner, he heard a voice.

Said this voice then, “How many of you know the meaning?” Bishop scanned and searched, for company who did not seem present at all. “I know how to define many things, but of which do you speak?” he spoke as his neck around was craning.

Then said the new guest “You will not, down there, soon find me. Mother Earth has blessed me with great height. Just look to my leaves; then you will see how my voice flutters them as would the great Mother on a day windy.”

The breeze off the water and the trees that gave shade. This could not possibly delusions from too much heat pondered Bishop. Possibly distress, his need for a friend had brought this on. He needed only to calm, and it would fade.

“Do not turn timid now, my human friend.” Bishop could not believe this persisted. “Mother Earth knew you might doubt, but just talk to me and you’ll see.” And looking up, with each word he did see leaves flutter, without the slightest wind.

“So my great green friend,” Bishop finally stammered. “What is that you have startled so to now say?” “Again I ask what do you know?” says the tree. “What is it I know?” “Yes, what do you know of environmentalism?” he booms so he may be heard.

“I’ll have you know I am a vegetarian,” Bishop declares. Taking so much pride in this show of strength. “The environment may not delight in this as much as you think,” came the reply. “There is more of which you should be aware.”

As the smog of diesel engines cascaded over, Bishop compared; does he know now? Maybe this is so. Yet his knowledge was not enough. Many new those of Ivy City are cough and cannot breathe; but their lungs were free, so concern was undeclared.

If Mother Earth had no chosen him, would he have acted? Had her son that day not explained, would his love, his life, continued on corrupted? But Bishop could not live in what ifs now. Now to finish his journey is where he headed.

Bishop turned back into Ivy City, back into the fight. He could not turn away after all he had learned. The words of his great arborous friend and the rest of his story was flooding in again. From his muddled thoughts to that time bright.

“So you only eat plants, my world conscious friend?” Then Bishop swears there came a slight chuckle from the grand tree. “Don’t you wonder if animals are not the only things that need protecting? Do we with leaves not fear an end?”

“While you refuse to shop at the butcher, still many do. And many like me fall around the world as you all gather your strength and grow. So tell me then, what have you truly done?” Bishop never stopped to think from this view.

“I-I recycle as well,” muttered Bishop after scrounging his mind. Surely that can be appreciated by you and your brethren.” He began to think being a vegetarian was not something with which to lead; but reducing and reusing would be pleasing to his kind.

“Well of course this will make up for it; you eating and depleting the population of mine.” Bishop cringed from the reference. “Your human recycling facilities work hard and yield little. Most of us cut down are in a trash pit.”

“What you are missing from your environmentalist life? Simply to care. All humans should care what you all have done.” Of course it’s so simple thought Bishop. How is that not what he’d done? Wasn’t he here to ponder such strife?

Boomed the tree once more, “Mother Earth calls for balance. And she calls for action from you. You are closer to making a changed then it seemed before, when you sat here just questioning the wind, and then we hope you will serve as guidance.”

“I do not have time to protest with the others,” Bishop whined. “Aren’t my Lily and I doing enough?” The final words Bishop ever heard from this tree: “Be careful of the garden you grow… of its weeds you cannot afford to be blind.”

“So is that how I make a change? A garden I must grow!” Yet Bishop’s shouts went unanswered. The breeze of his voice no longer tickled the leaves and branches. He walked back, holding more answers than he could know.

Walking home Bishop looked up, finally taking notice. How is it he had never realized how tree-lined his Georgetown was? Were they whispering? Chattering away about him? Could their Mother Earth truly exist, calling him to action thus?

He stepped passed his threshold, causing his Lily to start. “Rest assured your call will be returned,” she hurried, getting off the line; but there was more of this conversation Bishop had heard. What could it be, of which his love is a part?

Just outside his door, he had heard clearly; “More funds,” she had belted, “and the fate of your new business is good. We can report away any effect on the land around. Name the price and we will speak of your project dearly.”

Now at him she beamed, asking “Where have you been?” A mood much improved from when they had last spoke. “Just a walk my dear, but I hurried home to you. But take your important calls from… well who was it just then?”

With eyes darted away, Lily simply muttered, “Just something from work, boring really,” then a change of subject, “Instead let’s go out, somewhere exciting. Most exciting of all my treat!” “Where the sudden funds?” he asked wincing knowing she’d be angered.

“My job is going well, I am a great apprentice.” A simple reply. So Bishop thought of another approach, in order to coax the truth. “I know just what to, where to spend this afternoon; some time in Ivy City for us new environmentalist.”

The color from here face, it was instantly gone away. Yet she was quick and would not be trapped so easily. “What do you know of environmentalism? You simply do as I wish; and I wish instead to have fun for the day!”

“You do not wish to help you fellow man? I know those people are suffering from environmental racism. Have you not attended even one protest in your line of work? Taken a walk to capitol hill to have of government do what we know they can?”

Lily was not phased, did she even seem to care? Maybe just enough to rebuttal, “I do plenty for this world, and its time something must be done for me.” With this she simply left him, for this excitement she craved, and him with a blank stare.

This must be what Mother Earth needed him to see; that neither he nor his love had ever been truly prepared to help. This Earth was truly in need, but to save it had become a simply a fad, a whim. He could no longer stand to think so carelessly.

Bishop would start where his flower had become a weed. Right now, this instant, he must go to Ivy City. He began his journey, to another part of his home, realizing he’d never been. But had driven by to add to the deadly cloud indeed.

Washington D.C.’s Ivy City was easy to find; right under the hum of Ney York Avenue. He could feel the difference, thicker, darker, and harsher than his beloved Georgetown. He stepped onto hard concrete, shaded by the industry, him behind.

In the center of this are residential sat the site of the station. Grand construction for a depot, of diesel fueled monstrosities. “Had the report allowed this? Passing a bill of health for this clearly suffering place, are such acts aloud in my great nation?”

His heel brushed passed a single lonely patch of green. “I they have sent more of you I see.” This voice was muffled and tiny; not nearly as grand as his last visitor which invaded his solitary speech. Low and battered at his feet sat a shrub he had not seen.

Looking down, the source he instantly knew. “Do your leaves too flutter in Mother Earth’s unseen breeze?” Silence gave Bishop sickening doubt, came then “Outsider, you do not know when the last fresh breeze this way blew.”

“Do not worry my friend, I am only sent by Mother Earth,” Bishop gently reassured. “But who are the ones of which you speak? Who has been here before me?” Again this friend took quite the pause, seeming to Bishop a labored breath’s worth.

“I have seen them here. Those who receive power from money. That is the green they protect before me. Turning their backs, falsifying claims, they made the plight my home is in now possible. Even your precious government made left me.”

This began to make sense to Bishop now. What seemed at first just a flower, turned invading weed; altering ecosystems in a way that did not balance this Earth. But he would fix it, he could feel Mother Earth guiding him to how.

“Tell me the story of Ivy City, so I know where to begin.” The suffering shrub took a breath of smog again. “I am sure you know of the cars on New York Avenue as many citizens do; yet now you will know of its effects on our residents within.”

“Many people here, even our children, cannot breathe. The doctors explain to them what the car exhaust does to their system respiratory. Now your government wants a hub for your districts buses, against our residents’ plea.”

Briefly he has heard mention of this plan; yet it was not making headline news. The African American Environmentalist Association worked hard to be heard, but greed and power took their protests and into the ground they ran.

“Already too many government parking lots here. Feeling no need to place anywhere other than near some of D.C.’s lowest income citizens.” Looking around the neighborhood, the advantage they had taken over them was clear.

“Some even came in to falsify reports. So eager are they to profit from our pain. I remember them clearly, practically taking out masks to cover their precious lungs and face. Yet ‘perfect safe’ was their only retort.”

“Such a beautiful vessel, for such a voracious nature,” this plant went on. “That must be my Lily, how it confuses me as well. Is it she? Is that where I must lay blame?” “She and all that fund, support, aid and employ her.”

Bishop realized there was not a lot he knew. Like where exactly she was employed. Something he did know was that it must come to an end. So now here he stood, deciding to turn and run. Wanting to confront his love, knowing he had to.

Yet this is where he turned back; this is where he was needed most. Straight to the site where e pollutants in abundance would stem. There he would stay and would not move. With his new mission he could think of no better way to attack.

Soon they joined him, one by one. They brought friends, they family, and they brought a following. They brought pain and regret to his Lily, and soon she appeared too. Yet all who were involved were not so easily won.

The push for the bus depot continued. And so the gathering, signs, and even news crews continued too. Children with their cough took marker to poster and let their voices be heard on each homes television to them tuned.

So many messages their protests spurred. “Save me, and my environment” “All Earth’s creatures deserve justice” Bishop wanted speak for Mother Earth. Show that this is important for environmentalism, share what he learned.

He would prune the garden and let everyone see. “This is what environmentalism means to me:

Caring deeply about all Earth’s Children; humans, plants, and animals alike.

Seeing the importance of maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems too.

Justice and ethics for the environment and where rampant misuse may strike.

Better transportation, urban planning and sustainability for depletion we cannot undo.

For our future generations we need to keep clean air and plenty green space.

Appreciation for nature, water, air, and were all our food is grown and made.

I still choose to eat meat yet it is free range, not GMO, keeps my environment safe.

And for those who cannot speak up, for my Earth and her children, I will them aid.

The news station did rave, but this was no big solution. The buses did stay and so did the pain of Ivy City. And so is the story similar for many places. In each there must be someone to care, to reach for Mother Earth’s restitution.

It is not a simple task, and our Mother Earth does not call for the action of just one simple man. Lead by example, follow your heart and not he fad. We all need to come together. And find what makes you and environmentalist.

For us now, and for our future generations. So that small things like these will become grander actions. And prune the weeds of all the Ivy Cities of our nation. 

Unnatural Nature
Student Wall
Feburary 2014
Perkins Library
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina