I would like to propose that Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights, is an environmental sociologist. Last semester I took an Environmental Sociology class in which we explored the history of the way that humans have thought of and interacted with the environment, and the way that that history has cumulated in the current human-environment interactions. In the collection O’Nights, Cecily Parks explores the tension between the “natural” and the “human.” She expresses a sense of envy of characteristics and activity of the non-human world that she is excluded from simply by the fact of her species. She writes of a swallow that she follows, “She dips her wings in her reflection/but I cannot.” She also points out the absurdity of her human thoughts and desires when set in the context of the ecological system of the earth. She writes, “I asked the stars, will you be my jewelry?” This reveals her desire to possess what is impossible to possess, and the absurdity and impossibility of human desire.
Parks also questions whether human concern with the environment is part of a desire to possess. She writes, “My fields were ill. They weren’t my fields./My trees were being killed. They weren’t my trees.” Environmental sociologists have proposed that theories of human-centric environmental conservation have damaged the ecosystems that they hoped to help. She writes, “We ask the snow to be wool for us.” Some of the ineffective environmental reform was the result of the assumption that a state of nature is perfect, simple, and predictable in the realm of human logic. Parks has a revelation that escapes many environmental theories when she writes, “Wilderness isn’t paradise.” Parks acknowledges and unpacks her own sociological biases, intellectually examining her relationship to nature but never shirking from her inherent human bias.
Parks’ poetry seems an appropriate, though unexpected medium for environmental sociology. The poems are aware that their content is shaped by the fact that they are poems, just as Parks is aware that her feelings about the natural world are shaped by the fact that she is human. In the second section of the collection she writes about her daily habits in contrast to those of the world outside the human world, acknowledging her insignificance in the context of the greater system of wilderness. She is able to synthesize her observations with a calculated awareness of her lens being shaped by her place a human and as a poet. She writes
if I in our dining room
singing so not even
our infestation of moths can hear: I will never be daughter
of the maple tree! I will never be
sister of the leaf!