Contemplating Death and Consumer Guilt

Bauxite is an aluminium ore and the world’s main source of aluminium.

Many years ago while I was a guest in Guyana, locals made sure to make me aware of a bauxite mine owned by an American cooperation. The executives of this American company made deals with Guyanese politicians who (from what I understand) were the only Guyanese people to profit from this partnership. The agreement was basically that the American company got to mine the land and the Guyanese people would receive a percentage of the profit obtained from the sale of the bauxite. However, this mining company sold the bauxite to a sister company at cost. Although the sister company could then produced products with this low cost bauxite and then made profit off those products, no profit from the actual bauxite sale existed. Therefore the Guyanese people received no monetary compensation for the resource taken from their land. In addition to this underhanded scheme, the company by-and-large did not employ Guyanese workers who demanded a fair wage. Instead the company imported more desperate Brazilian workers willing to work for much less money as they striped the Guyana land of this valued commodity.


“It was mostly drink containers. Glass bottles. Beer bottles. Liquor bottles. Plastic soda bottles. Cans. Big huge blocks of crushed aluminum cans. I just wanted to yell at people. Stop! Why are we doing this? Stop!”


My friend had an emotional reaction after visiting a recycling facility for a work field trip. She felt overwhelmed by the amount of tossed away materials, by the one hundred plus degree weather conditions the workers stood in as they sorted through discarded items going down a conveyor belt, and by many trucks that kept arriving bring more stuff people had used only for a moment and then threw out.

Sometime later, I toured the same facility. It is something to behold; a bizarre mix of beauty, disgust, fascination, uncomfortable truth, and hope. I long ago wrote down some statistics regarding how much stuff was processed through this recycling plant, but (years later) that data is lost to me. I remember that it was A LOT.
There were indeed huge rectangular chunks of crushed aluminum cans stacked on top of one another; shimmering metallic lego-like blocks stacked as high as the building. Lots and lots of aluminum.


Sometimes my art is penance. If I am going to be so bold as to drink from an aluminum can when water comes right out the tap, knowing what I know, seeing what I’ve seen, then by-all-that-is-good-and-holy I ought do my best to ensure that material is treated with as much respect as I can give it.
When I drink from a can, I save that can in a little stack in my basement. When the stack become too noticeable, I have to do something with these collected cans. This . . . perhaps neurotic. . . behavior forces me to be creative with the material and makes me very aware of just how much soda and beer I consume. I do believe this behavior helps me limit the use of this disposable product, which in the end is my actual goal.

This time, I let my pile grow to 36 cans before I decided to atone for my participation in this aspect of the mass consumer lifestyle.


In late September 2015, I set a completely unrealistic goal of utilizing as much of these 36 cans as possible to create embossed aluminium ornaments featuring Calavera (sugar skull drawings) on one side and poems about death on the other side, which I would complete by the end of October 2015. Four months later in early January 2016, I had produced 36 such ornaments from my 36 cans.

One could argue that I greatly underestimated the amount of time and effort that would go into this project and this is partly true. However, it is also true that I just really enjoyed waking up early each day and reading poetry.

It is a very enjoyable way to live. I spent more time reading poems than I ever thought I would. I’d find one poem I’d really enjoy by a writer I had never heard of until then, and then I would HAVE TO become more acquainted with this writer’s work. Every once and awhile I found a poem about death that I liked and that would fit in the space of the piece of aluminium I had available.

Who would have guessed that consumer guilt would lead to a greater appreciation of poets?


Please visit my store for an opportunity to own your very own manifestation of my consumer repentance.

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