artwork for Joanna Cleary's poem Plastic Poem

Plastic Poem
Joanna Cleary

Years ago, in a university poetry class,
I had to write a poem to plastic. I said
I was both ashamed and not ashamed
for always needing it. Another student
braver than me read an apology aloud,
saying she was sorry for using plastic
before throwing it out—that we treat it
as we do women, underpaid laborers,
even our bodies. Wanting repentance
to make me whole, I quietly chimed in,
said I was part plastic; plastic part me.

Today, it’s spring—sunlight trickles in
through my windows. It’s tricky to tell
if the sun rising each day is forgiveness
or mere indifference. I take out the trash
with its takeout containers and remnants,
telling dirty bags they’ll live beyond me
to spend an infinity gazing up at the sun;
I’m too ashamed to admit they’ll never
be the better part of me. All they can do
is to look up at things lovelier than them.
I promise, I think, looking at the plastic,
to reduce and recycle. To better myself.
To do penance so I’ll be forgiven. Then,
I go inside to celebrate how clean I feel.

Joanna Cleary’s Comments

When it comes to the environment, I often have to fight between two contradictory drives—the learned drive to do whatever it takes to be environmentally conscious and the primal drive to do whatever is easiest. It’s easy for one to say that they care about the environment, but it’s also easy to only take superficial actions towards reducing one’s ecological footprint. I wrote “Plastic Poem” to explore the guilt that can come with this hypocrisy in the hopes that acknowledging my flaws—and the flaws perhaps many of us share—will drive me to make my efforts to become an environmentally conscious person more authentic.

Table of Contents

Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 60 | Fall/Winter 2022