Tiffany Higgins

Sita and the Orangutans Sumatra Sutra

“Singapore index up for 3rd day straight, led by palm stocks”
     —March 6, 2014, Reuters                

“Procter & Gamble Linked to Palm Oil Deforestation in Indonesia”

“As Consumers Demand Trans Fat Alternative, Corporations Clear Cut Forest to Meet Demand”
     —March 7, 2014, Carey Biron in Mintpress News

 “O goddess, you are the altar’s center in the sacrifice,
 The priest’s fee
 Sita to those who hold the plough
 And Earth to all living beings.”

     —from the Harivansha

RamaRamaRamaRama SitaSitaTara

Sita straddles Rama as a dowsing rod
hooks over earth to divine it

the consumer is united somewhere with the consumed
customer with the costumed

raw material of soil
in plastic festoon

open the door in your palm (tree)
let me see your palm (tree)

everyone grew, everyone knew
no one grew, no one knew (or so we said)

Top producers of palm oil: Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK), banked by HSBC (UK) & OCBC (Singapore) →
          KLK supplies to Cargill, Wilmar, who sell to the Snack Food 20 →
          among them Kellogg, Kraft, General Mills, Nestlé and Unilever →
          let’s not pass over Procter & Gamble, Pepsi, Ferrero, L’Oreal.

In the past decade, US consumption of palm oil has leapt 485%
thus pushing rainforest destruction in Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

here companies including KLK use forced labor, child labor, and ignore indigenous land rights to illegally seize land

Sumatra, 1990:         60,000 hectares of forest,               2,000 orangutans

Sumatra, 2014:         10,000 hectares of forest,                200 orangutans

in our homes: Tide detergent, Gillette shaving gel,
Pampers diapers, Head & Shoulders shampoo.

the consumer is united with the consumed (field of animal chewed)
the customer is united with the costumed

(Sumatran tiger tuft, prominent tangerine ruff
Sumatran elephant tusk said to penis-up)

1980 to 2005: 69 % of Sumatran elephant habitat lost
as they require space to roam larger than small blocks of forest left
From 1985-2007, 50% of elephants on Sumatra died.

Sumatra, 2008: ~ 440-600 Sumatran tigers exist, trending downward
Tiger bones sell for US $ 116 per kg.

~         ~         ~

Someone sets aflame what’s below the feet:
loam-rich carbon-thick peat.

Arms of arms ablaze, some of our fellow primates skitter down tree to flee.
Some villagers use a stick in shape of slingshot to hold the head

of the orangutan, use a timber to beat mother until dead:
or else mom orangutan will fight to defend baby beside her to death.

Did you know orangutans nurse their children for five years?

Baby without parent now, child orangutan, wispy red-orange
hairs about its pouch, is taken to market to be sold from cage.

Or else palm workers leave murdered orangutans in thin graves.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., cheery in the morning, I eat my original cornflakes.

Breakfast cereal doused with palm oil
As are the forests so distant from—so in—me.

the consumer is united with the consumed (my/our orangutan body)
the customer is united with the costumed (our curtained ecology)

You will have to learn to let them go:
you are nothing in this archipelago

of trade and buy and trade
and die and trade.

Someone is passing from this earth.

No: it is not the way of things
But the way of humans upon things.

I saw today your stock was trading high.

In the cipher did you calculate
how many animals for it were registered to die—

                                                (cash, ash, register)

In a field of grey stumps, yesterday torrid green, an orangutan
climbs hand over hand over foot over hand

to the end of a trunk that’s already fallen.
This forest my our his her our forest no longer sings, green luminary.

Observant & noticing, its features consternated.
From branch to branch it can no longer swing:

That’s the thing: the whole dance is off.

It will descend to the ground to where
The club or cage, logic of mesh, awaits.

To be sold for ten dollars—

To relinquish the entire indignant kingdom.

I, with my disgust for transfats—
protection of my cells, my free radicals—

drove this to happen.

meanwhile, my Crest toothpaste is nice and slippery

Slippery with the oil of palm from the brown, hairy hand taken
Slippery with taken shade from the extensive canopy—now gone, it is so bright in here

Slippery with workers’ identity cards stolen, as they are held in barracks,
by day forced to dig trenches to drain palm swamp until it is desertified

& spread herbicide Paraquat (comes bloody
cough), some children, many never paid.

Canopy, razed.

Circadian archery—day inside

day inside day—erased.

Someone is falling downward into time.

Gamble, fickle.

All of it lost, all of us together
For the profit of a nickel plus a nickel plus a nickel.

~         ~         ~

Sita straddles Rama as a dousing rod
hooks over earth to divine it.

RamaRamaRamaRama SitaSitaTara

To honor his father, Rama gave up his throne in the city
to live in exile in the forest. Sita opts to accompany him.

In the forest, Sita-Lakshmi is stolen
from Rama by the demon Ravana.

Rama for years troops & treks to battle Ravana’s armies

Until finally he liberates Sita

from folds deep within forest.

Upon Sita’s return to the city, questions are raised about Sita’s fidelity

to Rama during these long years of captivity.

Proofs demanded of her purity.

Sita, who had waited long in forest to be “rescued,”

on the third test, finally, refuses.

Sita instead chooses to return

to the womb of her mother, Bhumi Devi.

Sita, whose name means furrow,
for within its folds of earth

—labial, loyal—

had she been born,

(amidst theft)

(of choice alert)

now vows
ever to be born

Lully Lullay



Dec. 24, 2014, Oakland, California 

it’s coming on Christmas, gettin’ kinda late
lake in the middle of the city, gettin’ kinda, civil
lake, once marsh, flush
with cormorants and ruddy ducks
who fish: ten times plunge, one time surface
up with weed in beak to munch
and me here at the little café
outdoor table which just last week
got robbed, patrons swiped
of ithings and laptops
oh today I’ll try my luck
grey smidges of sky and a Cali shiver
a little tree to peer through
ash arms divest of leaves
golden pal at my feet
separate from the ticker tape
of news, another black man
shot ill, I mean, killed by white cops—no not
the one you think, another and
another of each morning—there’s
a piano inside my mouth which might be playing
the song of my youth—how I struck
carols—especially descant, lully
lullay—o little lonely child—streets
clear, people on planes back to home
states, others in web of buy—
who sits at curb of edges all perceives:
rips in cement, into which recent
rain collects: mini-lakes
wind a mirror in potholes
riffles telephone wire reflect
ripple ripple wriggle
of down below above and above below:
to spy what’s up you need only
stare very carefully at what’s in ground:
so soar: the wind is playing the water guitar
of shuddering telephone wires—
ache, lake, desire—
oh I wish I had a river so—would teach my heart
to fly—I could float away
—oh it is true then
what they say:
all this world without substance
of pure impure vibration made

Tiffany Higgins

Tiffany Higgins is the author of And Aeneas Stares into Her Helmet (Carolina Wren Press, 2009), selected by Evie Shockley as winner of the Carolina Wren Poetry Prize. In August 2014, she was artist-in-residence at Art Farm in Nebraska. Her poems appear in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Massachusetts Review, Taos Journal of Poetry & Art, From the Fishouse, and other journals. She writes on ecology’s intersection with culture, and translates emerging Brazilian poets. Originally from Massachusetts, she teaches at several colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area.