Dr. Dolittle vs. the Oil Spill: A Fantasy

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The news is so unremittingly grim from the Gulf oil disaster—I think that BP is up to Plan F in its attempts to plug the gushing oil– that I’m going to share a poetic fantasy about ending it.  Maybe it will help keep you from hardening over and becoming fatalistic.  The poem was written by my father in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day.

A word of explanation: I owe my love of books to this man, who read aloud to my brothers and me every night until we were teenagers (we didn’t have a television).  Among our nightly reading were Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle books, most of them written in the 1920’s when my father was a boy.  My father is also noted in Sewanee for his annual Christmas poems, which frequently tap into the joy that children feel around fantasy literature.  Therefore, when he imagines Dr. Doolittle taking on a massive oil spill on Christmas Day, he invokes a world of innocence and hope.  The poem appeared in An ABC of Radical Ecology (1980).  

Here’s the poem:


D Is for Dr. Dolittle’s Christmas Blowout

or
A Bird’s Christmas on Whales 

by Scott Bates

When John Dolittle
who had been quietly celebrating
Christmas Day in the company of his numerous family
Dab-Dab the Duck Gub-Gub the Pig
Jip Toby Polynesia Tommy Too-Too and all the others
in his comfortable old house at Puddleby-on-the-Marsh
learned of the terrible off-shore oil blowout
from an exhausted Stormy Petrel
of the Petrel Petrol Patrol
falling against the kitchen window
with oil on her wings
(two million gallons of oil a day
spreading black death over the South Atlantic)
he immediately mobilized the Seagull Post
sending messages to the vast colonies of seals on
the rocks cliffs islands promontories and headlands
from the Tierra del Fuego to the Rio de Oro
to spread the word and begin Rescue Operation Oil Spill
and he made arrangements to embark himself
on the Great Glass Sea Snail summoned
post haste from the bottom of the Deep Hole
by a Jabizri Beetle and the Silver Fidget
in order to be on hand and direct the proceedings

The disaster was far worse
than ever he could have imagined.  A veritable volcano
an enormous column of oil 500 feet deep and no one could cap it . . .

As he was meditating upon the problem
the first squadrons of Harp and Harbor Seals
began to arrive with flotillas of Dolphins
Sharks Giant Turtles Manatees and Killer Whales
plus all the larger species of Atlantic Sea Eagles
and began to sea- and air-lift the thousands of bogged-down
Phalaropes Shearwaters Terns Ducks Penguins and Petrels
by wing fin and flipper up to the coast of England
where his unique formula of Pollution Protection Emulsion
soon set them right as a trivet and
winging back to sea again
–over the heads of the startled puddlebeans
who however had learned to expect almost anything
out of the neighborhood of Dr. John Dolittle

Who meanwhile back at the rig
had moved into action
Standing like a little admiral on the top of the Great Sea Snail
in his battered top hand and his ancient waistcoat
he was busily directing an armada of fifteen hundred whales:
They had broken off a small cliff from the nearby coast
and were carefully maneuvering it into place with the help
of long chains of Giant Squid keeping it delicately in balance
spiraling heroically down and around the boiling maelstrom

Until
with a whoosh and a great schloop
the huge plug was in place
and the oil spill was stopped!

Whereupon all the Whales
Seals Dolphins Eagles Walruses Tortoises Sharks and Giant Squid
threw a Christmas blowout in honor of Dr. John Dolittle
dancing an ancient and marvelous sea dance around the platform
which the grateful seabirds had adorned with seaweed shells and
pearls
till it looked like a beautiful coral Christmas Tree
in the middle of the sea
After which they wished him Godspeed as
he rode back on the Snail
and they returned peacefully to their affairs

Without neglecting first however
to remove all the rest of the off-shore oil wells
from all the coasts of the North and South Atlantic Oceans
leaving only Christmas Tree Oil Rig Island
(also called Oil Well That Ends Well)
as a monument to the good Doctor
as an historical marker of the greatest sea lift in oceanic history
and as a continual reminder of the everpresent danger
of people
like you and me
who tend to consider ourselves the biggest catfish in the sea

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