Marizó Siller, Director
Charissa Kroeger, Performance
Melanie Au-Yuang, Performance
Sara D, Performance
Katy Gurin, Text
Carolina Sotelo, Music
Alex Bajos, Mixing + Mastering
Farida Amar, Executive Producer
Lauren Lakin, Producer

Paleozoic Plate Tectonics (Super8)

Pyramid Lake, Nevada, June 2022

Created in response to the following poem, written by Katy Gurin:

Early Paleozoic

The old supercontinent wandered to sea—
fled itself—split
to Baltica, Laurentia, and Siberia.

Inside the land’s new sutures,
the Iapetus Ocean flooded. Then,
maybe tethered in the mantle
to an opening Rheic,
the Iapetus dove below Laurentia.

Another inner sea, the Paleo-tethys,
dug down Gondwana’s margin.
Gondwana spun, gathering ice in the south;
salt and lime
at the warm equator.

The landmass did not venture past
its home hemisphere:

the waters were restless.
They had ascended.

Middle Paleozoic

Spines poked out
where Laurentia and Baltica fell back together;
in the basins, the rotting mountains
poured their minerals.

Idaho and Nevada were deep and silty.
Were riverine
and estuarine.

As the Panthalassic
pressed at the crouched,
submerged continents,
the epeiric seas awoke:
in the bright water,
corals built stupendous cities
on their own bones.

Middle Paleozoic

A fold had opened, and more and more of the living Rheic fell toward the core.

Once again, the world-continent began
assembling itself.

Late Paleozoic

Pangaea subsumed the interior oceans.

It squatted across the equator.

A vertebral range ran pole to pole, dividing Panthalassic from Paleo-Tethys.

The joined land
became a grave for nearly everyone.

Only Cimmeria rifted away.

Carnian Pluvial Episode

Underwater volcanoes pulled two million pluvial years from the earth's mantle, and the rain spent this time casting smoothed pebbles across the continents.

Once again, life was lost at the behest
of carbon; the atmosphere exhaled a command
or a spell, or a song to end the lineages.

Beginning, the conifers pulsed
and dinosaurs ground the forests to food.

It rained for two million years, until
the earth sucked its carbon back:

eroding mountains,
underwater formations,
and trees held this gasp.

2020 Fire Season

Noon was dim, red, and raw. Sickness had spread.
I felt it in my muscles as the old story left.

Before that day, I thought extinct life was defective.
I believed my predecessors were incomplete;
I hadn’t realized how easy it is to lose a world to carbon.

My cranium is like melting ice cream.
It’s heavy, like an aged flower.
It’s not me.

Now, I ponder the lives of my kin out there in time—
Devonian Sarcopterygians, Permian Therapsids.

I spend all day thinking of how beautiful they are.

“Paleozoic Plate Tectonics” is from a series of poems about the Paleozoic Era in Earth’s history, which spanned from 541 to 251 million years ago. At the beginning of the Paleozoic, continents were spread throughout the globe; by the end of the Paleozoic, continental crust had collected to form Pangea. The formation of Pangea led, among other things, to a change in climate. “Carnian Pluvial Episode” is about a period of intense, worldwide rainfall that occurred after the Paleozoic and possibly influenced the evolution of the dinosaurs.

The story of rock is the story of climate; the story of climate is also the story of life. The Paleozoic Era encompassed the Cambrian “explosion”—when almost all living animal phyla evolved—and it ended with the worst extinction event in Earth’s history. In the intervening time, countless beings led wonderful lives. Some creatures gave the first births, had the first sex, and possessed the first faces. Corals—animals that looked like flowers—made the most extensive reefs in all of earth’s history from their exoskeletons, which resembled vases or lace. Paleozoic oceans were full of armored fish with heads like buffalo and free-swimming sea scorpions over six feet long. At one point during the Paleozoic, the land was covered in thirty feet tall, fungal obelisks.

Three mass extinctions occurred during thePaleozoic, and all can be correlated with major fluctuations in atmospheric CO2—fluctuations that were probably influenced by both geological and biological developments.In the early and mid-Paleozoic, the earth experienced a series of catastrophic ice ages—global cooling—as atmospheric CO2 plummeted. These ice ages may be related to the flourishing of new creatures and an increase in weathering of rock (due to plate tectonics and associated mountain-building), both processes that can sequester carbon. A series of extinctions, including the demise of the coral reefs, seem to have occurred as the first forests spread across the land—there were extinctions in the oceans after roots evolved, then more extinctions after trees developed seeds. The final Paleozoic mass extinction, which occurred during the Permian period, may have been caused by a massive release of carbon. A flood of lava lit stores of coal, oil and gas that had built up throughout the Era, possibly creating catastrophic warming sufficient to eliminate nearly all life on earth. So, the story of the Paleozoic is, in part, the story of the withholding and release of atmospheric carbon. Inhalations and exhalations that ended worlds.

Much of the oil and gas extracted in North America is from the Paleozoic, so the exhumations of Paleozoic creatures can also be linked to current loss. In The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert outlines the major causes of the great diminishment of life occurring on earth; climate change due to the burning of ancient creatures is among these. As in Paleozoic extinction events, some of the most magnificent and diverse of Earth’s ecosystems—coral reefs—are threatened.

In his book about mass extinctions, The Ends of The World, Peter Brannen writes “A sentiment exists—particularly among nonscientists—that the idea of humans seriously disrupting the planet on a geological scale is mere anthropocentric hubris. But this sentiment misunderstands the history of life. In the geological past, seemingly small innovations have reorganized the planet’s chemistry, hurling it into drastic phase changes.” As I’ve pondered parallel losses such as those that occurred during the Ordovician, Devonian and the Permian extinctions, climate has become central to my understanding of the world and my place in it; it is no longer simply a vague, aberrant, looming threat. In looking to the history of this restless planet for context and meaning, I can start to approach the current moment with open eyes.

I love thinking about Earth’s history, and much of what I’ve written is simply an homage to worlds that came before. If I can convey any concept, it’s this: it is easy to lose a world to carbon, but I believe that if climate movements continue to grow, and if those movements can force a swift and equitable transition from fossil fuels, we can prevent the loss of our world. To me, the history of climate change on earth adds renewed urgency and meaning to the work of climate and social justice activism.

Katy Gurin earned a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Humboldt State University in 2011 and an MFA in Poetry from UC Riverside in 2019. Her poems have appeared in Narrative, Sinking City, and Blue Earth Review. She is currently working on a climate action plan and finishing her second book-length poetry collection.