Nicole Parizeau is former senior editor at Whole Earth Magazine and principal editor at Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. She writes and edits in Northern California, to which she moved from Montreal as an interpretive naturalist, and is the editor of five books from the International League of Conservation Photographers. Her poetry and prose appear or are upcoming in Folio, Poecology, the Emrys Journal, Opium Magazine, and Weather,an anthology from Imagination & Place Press. She is writer-in-residence at Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation.
Nicole’s Story – Where Worlds Meet
Inconceivable as the desiccated Limpopo, whose parched riverbed we walked in Botswana—startling, triumphant cactus underfoot….
Haunting as the turned-off faucet of Victoria Falls in Zambia—Mosi-o-Tunia: “smoke that thunders”—with neither thunder nor smoky spray….
Criminal as the cheek-by-jowl of Cape Town’s cobalt coves and Imizamo Yethu Township’s waste streams….
As unimaginable and untenable as these unnatural environments, it was Mwandi, a tiny community in western Zambia, that smashed me up against the last rock of my presumptions. My small group was there to contribute time to the teetering public-health infrastructure of the village; to spend time in the one-room school and the 15-bed hospital, to help build an HIV-AIDS clinic for which the waiting list was virtually village-wide.
Blisteringly, virtually all Mwandian men of working age had died or were too ill with AIDS to contribute to the village or to their families’ well-being. Most childbearing-aged women were living with HIV (many were also coping with malaria or the vestiges of tuberculosis) even as they supported their families single-handedly. Scores of children were affected—and, if they’d lost parents, set more or less adrift. Logistical wherewithal was almost nil. The Mwandi outpatient wing made do with five thermometers held together with duct tape. A copy of Hesperian’s Where There Is No Doctor lay nearly in shreds at reception (reception: a countertop). Once again, as with Global Exchange on a grassroots delegation to Senegal a few years earlier, I was struck by the sheer guts with which a few community members cared for their own in the absence of in situ education and social bracing.
But it was the elderly, the extremely aged, beyond the grip of a modern sexually transmitted plague—and often utterly alone in a village eviscerated of nuclear families—who both broke and repaired me. Mwandi cares for its old as a village. (It takes….) Kandiana is an enclosure at the end of town, 16 scant rooms spilling into a thatch-fenced, chicken-dotted courtyard. Its residents are fed by the little hospital. The people are beautiful and strong as weavings. Few outsiders visit. It is a former leper colony.
Here intersect environments and their inhabitants: exquisite and fierce as an old woman; eerie as the baking skull of a vervet on a wall; moving as an elephant graveyard where the smoke no longer thunders.
And this is only one, small story.
2012 Variations in Winter: Bill Holm Poetry Contest
Nicoles Winning Poems…
in California laurel
where cattle emerge
from the copse in
decanting into the hoarfrost and
fanning across the meadow to settle in a
Jurassic frieze, untroubled, exploiting the sweet window
between crepuscular predators and ahead of the midday thaw.
No plot, just
the light on the acre
the thick of a storm
the vigilance of seed
the ballad of a cowlick
the texture of a verb
the hiss of snow on poplar
the curl of a thermal
the tabula rasa of a little boy’s nape.
The early moon is a blue
poke in the eye;
it stops you cold, like a fist.
The mid-month moon is suspended
behind a scrim of snowfall,
a chill, diffuse searchlight.
In its lunar maria the late moon
is bruised, like us.
Toward dawn it sublimates in the leaching dark.
Medusahead stalks lean like
bed sheets airing
on the hill.
In four of the Harvestman webs
on the ceiling a pepper-ground
hatchling of spiders stares out
to the new, compound world.
A darkling beetle breaks through
the small drift
and chugs down a red carpet
of lava rock,
majesty shattered by
dust-bunny slippers of snow.