November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
The New York Times and other popular media are suddenly all over climate change. Sandy, of course, the talks in Doha, a delayed reaction to the huge ice melt in the arctic this summer, and a number of reports that have come out this week—the World Bank’s among them—that suggest that things are either worse than you thought, or as bad as you thought, depending. It’s a confluence of newsworthy moments, which will pass.
I had a reader respond angrily to one of my posts about climate change. There are many possibilities as to why she took it personally, but mulling it over took me, perhaps, far from the cause of her distress, but more generally applicable: this is what happens with an issue so uncertain and nightmarish. You may have believed “the facts” for years, but when you suddenly feel, on a gut level, that these what-if scenarios are real, terribly dangerous, very likely to happen—the fear and grief are overwhelming.
Some people lash out in situations like that. I tend to lash in. I start thinking about all the lost things; I feel inadequate to the urgent needs of the world; I want to hide in dreams or books or drinks or, most pressingly, the rhythm of a November walk. The luminous grey sky, the bare arms of the trees, the cold against my ears, the dirty-laundry swish of fallen leaves—this walk so like all the walks I’ve ever taken in November.
Both the lashing out and lashing in are effects of this knowledge we haven’t factored in yet fully: current climate change deniers are only the beginning. When ordinary, well-meaning people start truly imagining their children’s lives not in terms of success and grandchildren, but survival and chaos, the result will be a ferocious anger and where will it be directed?
Groups like 350.org think it’s important to identify villains—energy companies—and at first I thought that was simplistic, since we’re all complicit, but on the political level it’s astute. Blaming oneself for huge failures feels really shitty. Recognition is helpful; anger is not. But anger is a good way to bind social groups, and since so much of it will be floating around a few years from now, it’s wise to dig & fortify the channels for it now.
I’ve begun to notice the different ways people resist me when I talk about climate change catastrophe. Their words and body language evoke images: the woman who creates a moat around herself with doggie-paddle strokes; the one with an impermeable force field my words bounce off of; many who switch channels automatically to the concrete, the here-and-now of weather or action. My favorite is the people who say, “I don’t allow negativity in my life.” Yeah. That works.
My ‘lashing in’ doesn’t last. In the aggregate, my reading makes me feel less self-involved. I appreciate the rain, the trees still standing, old New York brownstones and iconic modern buildings in their landscapes of sky. I want to pay more attention to the children in my family.
November for Beginners
Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.
So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!
November 14, 2012 § 2 Comments
One of my favorite poets died yesterday in Berkeley, CA. Jack Gilbert was 87 and had Alzheimer’s. It was the sort of death where you can say it’s a tragedy only because death is. I didn’t know him and he had plenty of adulation both early and late in his career (the middle, not so much), but now I wish I’d written him a note, when I first discovered him in 2005. I don’t remember what drew me to his fourth book, Refusing Heaven. Nobody told me about him. But somehow I found it, read it, and I should have said: thank you. Thank you for being brilliant. For hewing to exactly what you wanted to say, not spending one extra word. Thank you for making that outworn subject—love gone wrong—feel like a place to find wisdom and to express that other love, the one we use to communicate with friends and strangers.
I copied several articles and interviews about him yesterday, intending to read them and craft an essay about his life. I don’t feel like doing that now. I know he was an expatriate, lived all over the world, sought solitude and was lonely, loved women and lived with grief. I know his wife died young. That’s enough to know for now, though I will read the articles and interview and obituaries. His achievement makes me remember what poetry is for: not to move us or teach us (though that’s very fine), but to show us what new and durable craft can be made from the unchanging heart.
There are writers you love because you can find so many meanings in their work, interpret them a hundred different ways and not be wrong—writers who delight you with the fecundity and shape-shifting of imagination—and others whose power is to never be misunderstood.
I probably wouldn’t have gotten along with Jack Gilbert. I’m too much the first sort of writer, fishing, magpie-ing, putting things together one way and another, looking for comedy, looking for drama, hoping people like it, hoping something sticks; but I would have adored him anyway. His truth is not mine and it is mine. My sorrows go squishy, but they have their own tenacity. The sinews of his poems make me feel my own muscle. Words can do things.
Rest in peace, Mr. Gilbert. I wish I’d met you. You were a very great man.
Tear it Down
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.
November 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I was going to start working, which today means sorting jewelry and setting up a website, late for the season but not too late, and all of you should consider the ecological soundness and social consciousness of giving homemade, exquisite jewelry for Christmas…but that’s not what I started to say. I’ll save my rhapsodies on stone and glass for later in the week.
It’s this. Coffee beans at risk of extinction!
It won’t happen soon. There will be far worse problems before it does. I just feel guilty all over again that those poor shmucks left with our hot, howling planet won’t even be able to fortify themselves with a cup of morning joe. They’ll have to rise from bed in the dark and push back the sea without the lure of that bitter, come-hither aroma that in childhood I associated with the softness of my mother’s skin. The women of the future will stand on their back steps and stare over the withered fields—send the children to check the starling and field-mouse traps—even more bereft of comfort than Depression-era farm wives. Fresh water will become so scarce that the appeal of a diuretic beverage will be incomprehensible.
I realize that coffee isn’t necessary for civilization. In the middle ages, Europeans had beer for breakfast. Things moved much more slowly then. It took a hundred years to build a cathedral, or finish a war. Most people only read one book. News lasted months. Childbirth took as long as it wanted to.
Yet people were inspired enough to court and breed, which is all that’s required of us beyond plowing the fields and feeding the animals, burying the dead and keeping the fire lit; they also had art, music, politics, conspiracies, world travel and adultery. Even so, I think that without coffee, the less-than-genius or god-favored among us would find a drab in our bones, a fretful sulk in our imaginations. Life would become either the all-too-familiar cycle of revelry and hangover, or terrain of a dull sobriety, with none the chatter and jokes one finds at, say, AA meetings.
Reformed alcoholics have the great advantage of having been drunk a lot, so they know it’s possible to tell perfect strangers intimate secrets and ridiculous opinions and then have sex. Years of alcoholic excess remove the 7th grade fear that the squirmy humanity inside you is an alien being. Frail humanity is the only kind, other than brave 4-star generals. Instead, you become deeply depressed by your own squalid behavior and weakness. But that’s fixable with coffee.
Every generation makes its own coffee rituals, from the 17th century coffee house—hotbeds of revolution—to the French café of the 1950s, where caffeine joined literature and sex as the only thing stopping a man from shrugging his gallic shoulders of a meaningless existence. The American diner where they pour the coffee as soon as you sit down, the neighborly offer of coffee to anyone who stops by (including that strange ability of adults born before 1940 to drink it after dinner without ill effect) is forever linked in my mind with a certain annoying jingle that includes the phrase “heavenly coffee”. My breakfast when I was 14 was freeze-dried instant coffee made from hot tap water; I liked getting out of bed no more than 10 minutes before I had to leave for school. I remember horrid Irish coffees drunk at 17 or 18—excuses to ingest alcohol under cover of a desire for whipped cream. In my 20’s and 30’s, I enjoyed writing and daydreaming in the Italian caffes of San Francisco and Greenwich Village, and now—well, you know about now. I’ve never had a pumpkin latte. That doesn’t mean I never will.
Coffee is to our society what psychedelic mushrooms are to certain indigenous groups in South and Central America: the way the world is made sense of, how the frames are drawn. One could even argue that coffee fueled the industrial revolution and caused all this carbon trouble to begin with. There’s little evidence for this; factory workers in the 19th century were still drinking beer for breakfast—and throughout the day, to the consternation of the bosses—but it could be that the gradual adoption of caffeinated beverages in place of beer allowed mass production to become the streamlined behemoth we know and hate.
That doesn’t mean our descendents should be denied it. I don’t like to think of a society sliding into climate chaos without every possible aid to creative decision-making. They might drink synthetic caffeine, assuming wide industrial production of this in a shook-up economy is feasible. Synthetic caffeine is what’s put in energy drinks, and it’s inferior to the real thing in one important way: it’s absorbed much more quickly. That morning hour or two of sharpened thinking becomes 20 minutes of hyper-buzz. Imagine the National Security Council coming up with fifty ways to steal rain from other countries, only to end in an irritated chorus of “as if that would ever work, you caffeine-addled fuckwit,” just before shots are fired.
Maybe beer for breakfast is a better idea, helping us to grin and bear it as humanity slowly whittles itself down to a sustainable level. Of course, “we” doesn’t really mean we. Those of us over 50 will be safely dead. We is the children, the 6 and 10 and 15-year-olds, the children your adult children are planning to have soon and all those faraway faces you see in the Save the Children ads, as well as their kids. Billions of them.
This blog entry is brought to you courtesy of Citarella’s House Blend, a nice mix of dark and light beans from two continents, neither of them this one. Make yourself a cup of whatever you have on hand. Enjoy.
Canvas and Mirror
self-portrait with cats, with purple, with stacks
of half-read books adorning my desk, with coffee,
with mug, with yesterday’s mug. self-portrait
with guilt, with fear, with thick-banded silver ring,
painted toes, and no make-up on my face. self-
portrait with twins, with giggles, with sister at
last, with epistrophy, with crepescule with nellie,
with my favorite things. self-portrait with hard
head, with soft light, with raised eyebrow. self-
portrait voo-doo, self-portrait hijinks, self-portrait
surprise. self-portrait with patience, with political
protest, with poetry, with papers to grade. self-
portrait as thaumaturgic lass, self-portrait as luna
larva, self-portrait as your mama. self-portrait
with self at sixteen. self-portrait with shit-kickers,
with hip-huggers, with crimson silk, with wild
mushroom risotto and a glass of malbec. self-
portrait with partial disclosure, self-portrait with
half-truths, self-portrait with demi-monde. self-
portrait with a night at the beach, with a view
overlooking the lake, with cancelled flight. self-
portrait with a real future, with a slight chance of
sours, with glasses, with cream, with fries, with
a way with words, with a propositional phrase.
WordPress sucks. Read this poem with the proper line breaks
November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
“I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.” —Ray Bradbury.
“The future influences the present just as much as the past.” —Nietzsche
The election was a great relief (though I was always sure Obama would win),and I’m hopeful about Obama’s next term, but not too hopeful. I can’t stop thinking about climate change, and am beginning to feel like I shouldn’t have plowed so fast into the data; rather kept a little, scratchy shawl of ignorance.
I didn’t think, at first, that the idea of a science-fiction horrible future would upset me so much. I’ve gotten used to thinking of myself as cold, since I’ve spent my life building barriers against pain, my own and others’. When I let down those barriers, I begin to come apart, which is one causative strand in many of my relationships. But now it’s the facts that are tunneling through the barriers, and I have to admit: wrong again. Wrong that I could simply “learn” this and not feel it, not ache for the future, not think about all those who won’t experience the beautiful, abundant world I know, the grass and trees and snow and apples. Paris and New York, epic dinners, croissants and chocolate, enough food for three lazy cats. And novels in their slick jackets, the new crop, the magic. I was making some choices last night for Christmas presents—fall books—and I felt a breeze of that old pleasure: important writers, culture shapers, the thick, clotted cream of the pages where the words burrowed. Other worlds. Doors and bridges. The belief that I would join them in that zone of demi-divinity. That I would exist in the future, not myself but better.
I have books to finish writing and I want to finish them. They rebuke me, languishing in my computer without feet. But they feel more like letters than books, evanescent—productions some people will enjoy reading, but not of the slightest interest to the future. Not letters, then. Emails. Shopping lists.
I’d like to speak to the future, but don’t know what to say. Humanity will survive and love and have families—there’s plenty of common ground—but this shyness is like the shyness I felt as a child when I first got friendly with very poor people. My friend Denise slept in a bed with her three sisters. I spent the night with them once, after Denise had spent more than a few nights with me. Her mother asked me to join them, after dinner, sewing nametags on Denise’s clothes for violin camp (she’d won a scholarship, my brilliant talented friend).
Denise’s mother said it challengingly—she didn’t expect the “rich” white girl to know how to sew, or perhaps be willing to sew nametags in a black girl’s underpants. But my mother loved sewing and was Southern enough to teach the female skills: sewing, cooking, the etiquette of being a hostess and a guest. And I loved Denise (who was terribly embarrassed by the interplay). But Denise didn’t ask me to come back and I didn’t press it, although I liked her fierce mother and her giggly little sisters. The shyness of privilege won out.
Perhaps there isn’t anything to say. I cringe under their backward wrath.
I have no idea why this poem works, but it does, beautifully.
Huge crystalline cylinders emerge from the water
Where do they come from the King gushes these talking fish
Show me at once
We see the writer buried under a collapsing mountain of scribbled-over
While ink blurts from an overturned bottle
Speech is silver the King mutters
They discover a fabulous ancient city
Flag of smoke
Where we turned to look
Skulls, bats, stars, spirals, lightning bolts
Words spoken in anger
Flowers for sarcasm
The sequence continued to work in references to the brevity of life
Garlands of flowers
Stars signaling physical impact
They discover a fabulous ancient city
Under the water
None of the inhabitants
‘Be reasonable . . .’
Increasingly faint trace of inked
October 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
Getting ready for the big one, what Philip Bump of Grist.org dubbed the Snor’eastercane. Sandy. I think she should be at least Sandra, if not Cassandra, warning us of what life will be like most of the time in the near future (try getting anyone in power to talk about that). I’m almost ready to vote for Jill Stein. There’s a big climate change demonstration planned for tomorrow, right before the transit system is shut down; maybe we’ll go. Probably not. We aren’t ready for the storm yet.There’s still laundry from Charles’ illness, food to buy. And I never wake up before noon. That’s why I can write blog entries at 3 am.
Charles told me 2 days ago that we had lots of flashlights—which I took to mean he’d brought some from Florida—but in fact we only have one crappy one and by the time I realized that, there were no more to be had, except six-packs of mini-lights: what you’d buy for a school-kids’ camping trip if you don’t expect trouble and want them to have souvenirs.
But one old, cheap flashlight, with extra batteries and candles, will do unless there really is a power loss for a week, which is hard to believe in NYC, center of the universe, but if you can’t believe that…well, you’ll be in for a shock as the Northeast USA takes the brunt of nasty weather over the next—what–hundred years? Thousand years? I haven’t researched the arctic-ice-melting-gulf-stream-big-storm connection as far as to get a sense of duration, only to know that I’m living in the sweet spot of the upcoming trainwreck. Though not quite the sweet spot of the Maldives or Bangladesh.
There’s a lot I want to think and write about how we all are viewing this; by all I mean those who believe in climate change and that it’s happening now and will get increasingly worse. There’s the science, which is full of uncertainties about timing, tipping points, mitigation, etc, and then there’s temperament—those apocalyptically minded and those who can’t help focusing on the positive. Having been both–I find it hard not to be both, since cold reason and depression pull me in one direction, and love and the wish for the world as it has beautifully been pull me in the other—I believe it’s impossible to find one scientist who isn’t being pulled in several emotional directions at once. The uncertainly is real and deep (we barely know our planet and its systems) but so is the human incapacity to cope. We’ll never really know what’s coming until it hits, and maybe not even then.
This is far beyond denial or the question of whether it’s better to give people hope or scare the pants off them. It’s about how we perceive the world and how we can’t help but perceive it in multiple ways simultaneously. If you’re me, that makes you confused and full of insecurity, assuming you’re cooking the books, even if they aren’t your books; others take sides and shut out the noise from their other half.
All I have to offer, if I take this investigation seriously, is a history of prolonged suspension in psychological indeterminacy. A way with words. An interest in science, a love of nature, a lack of young beings I am personally responsible for (other than the felines, who’ll be dead before the worst of it).
In order to do this well, I do have to step out into the world more. Ugh. I don’t fit. Never did, more so now. Type faster, Juris would say. Write better, I tell myself.
On that note, I read my poetry Wednesday at The Cornelia Street Café’s Perfect Sense series, curated by Alyssa Heyman. The reading was a one-year anniversary celebration for Red Glass Books, the chapbook series created by my dear friend and publisher, Janet Kaplan. The other readers were E.J. Antonio, Brian Clements, Patricia Spears Jones, Edwin Torres, & Janet Kaplan read the world of Kate Greenstreet. All terrific. It was a remarkable evening and not just because I felt like a real participant for the first time. Everyone was good; everyone was listened to.
I’ve always been phobic about public speaking. A sad tale: lots of lost opportunities, many weeks of sobbing before some inescapable event, reliving a panic I didn’t understand. But I’ve finally gotten over that. I attribute this largely to age but also to Janet. Having someone who understands exactly what that fear is like, has overcome it herself, and is actively and always rooting for me made a big difference.
My mother said today, when I was telling her about the pleasure of reading, and the compliments I received, “You’re an actor, I’ve always known that.” I was greatly surprised. I’ve always known it too—though I would say performer rather than actor—but as long as I was too scared to perform, there was no point talking about it. And it’s still iffy, because experiencing the rush and then the letdown afterward was difficult…I felt thrust back into the void…and all the familiar feelings, it’s too late, it’s too late, which have been plaguing me over the last year slammed me hard yesterday.
But it’s not just about the pleasure of being on stage. I also had the satisfaction of communicating my work better than the page alone can. My poems about the breakup with Philip are angry/painful, but also funny. My friends and family saw the anger and pain; my sister remarked, after reading my chapbook, “I’d like to grind him to a fine powder.” She’s got a way with words too, doesn’t she? I keep thinking about that image; my very capable sister carrying out that rather gruesome task, which I have no doubt she could do if necessary.
But the humor was what I was most interested in. It’s always darkest just before the joke, in my experience. And strangers laughed and wanted more! Anger’s great, they said. Go for it! Do I have more? Oh, yeah. The sad sweet stuff I’ll save for some lyricist to put to music.
But enough about me. I just discovered this poet. She’s fucking brilliant.
You are mistaken if the language furthers your sense of devotion.
You are a fallen person now.
They care more about their language than for you (you, the real person you).
Line after line, a private, unmediated act done to you with a confusing abandon,
its flailing in its substance however deceptive this might be.
It will point out your own directionlessness,
you will be harmed.
You cannot mediate it with caress.
Do you think because they understand what meaning looks like,
they have more meaning than others?
They are the protectors of a sense of feeling, mere protectors— earnest?
No. They are protectors of the flawed, filling zones of bereft.
The aftermath of pleasure. A contested zone for all.
What about the lawyer who loves the law?
Aren’t they the same, a poet with a larger book—
the way they protect and subject language
to a sense-making?
A kind of cognitive patternization.
Ultimately, both undertake the hijack of language,
they won’t love you the way
you are; it’s in this inability to love—
unless you embody the poem—
you embody the law and its turn of phrase.
Unless you see the poet clearly: loving utterance,
an unadulterated utterance—seized and insular.
You must entice with otherness.
You must catch the poem as a muse does.
You must muse and muse and muse.
All the thralldom of poetic encounters that stand in for sexual ones,
all the ways we terrorize with sense-making,
allowing it to stand in for intimacy.
For it to stand in and suggest that all other kinds of feelings
and declarations must yield to it.
It will move you if you ask for permission
to exist within its confines,
and you move the poet toward you and you hold the poet’s head,
wrapping your arms around them
strapped in your wordless hold, but soon words do come
and in the trailing off of speech, you will be permanently lost.
October 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
North American at Risk
I read recently that the predicted worsening of extreme weather is also predicted to hit North America much harder than anywhere else, due to geographic/climate patterns I am not competent to explain. I doubt many people know this. Not that I can speak for the Midwest farmers or people who have lost homes to flood or fire, but the media keeps repeating that the people who contributed the least to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will suffer most, and this makes people think it won’t be so bad here. Yes, it will be far worse for the poor in Asia and Africa when food prices rise; and storms are more damaging if you live in a shack or a mud hut and have no resources for rebuilding. I’m not disputing that. But it will be no picnic here. We’ll be getting droughts, hurricanes and fires, getting more than our share (or less than our share, depending on how you look at it). The insurance industry is getting antsy. They believe in climate change. How long before coverage gets too expensive, like health insurance?
And how long before economic decline kicks in with a vengeance? Higher food and insurance prices will lead to a lot of people becoming homeless, and a lot more not buying the “luxuries” that make the economy run, and that will hit everyone. It makes me angry that none of this was discussed in last night’s debate. All of the economic and national security questions raised are strongly affected by climate change, which is far more certain than whether Iran will build a nuclear bomb. The military knows this, Joe Biden knows it and Paul Ryan would know it if he visited the “reality community” once in a while. I am quite certain it will be very different in four years. But four years may be too late.
Our politicians are despicably cowardly and I include Obama in that. We all have hopes for his second term—assuming he gets one—and he may fulfill them, but I doubt it. He’ll continue on the track of tougher regulations and subsidies to renewable energy companies (good), but he won’t tell the country that we’re in a climate emergency. He won’t give the 74% of people who believe in global warming the information they need, convey the urgency, propose and explain actions that can be taken (are being taken) on the community as well as national level.
Can you imagine the difference that would make? Maybe he’d pay for it by having more trouble getting bills passed. He’d certainly get tons of shit and be called out on why he didn’t talk about this before the election. But it would well be worth it. If he addressed the public once a month, simply let people know what’s being done and can be done on the state and local level (a smartly composed task force coming up with more ideas wouldn’t hurt), highlighting successes and updating them on the latest science—if he did that, not telling people what they have to do but what they can do, then innovation, creativity and green jobs would bloom.
On that note, it was a bloomin’ beautiful day for the farmer’s market. We bought corn, green beans, zucchini as firm as an 18-year-old boy’s favorite body part (“What will you bring to this country as a man?” “Um, Martha, you want me to show you?”) and what I can only call an ebullience of apples: Macintosh, Macoun, Cortland, Empire. Pie today, pie tomorrow.
There’s a very sharp piece about the debate here
Stripped in a flamedance, the bluff backing our houses
quivered in wet-black skin. A shawl of haze tugged tight
around the starkness. We could have choked on August.
Smoke thick in our throats, nearly naked as the earth,
we played bare feet over the heat caught in asphalt.
Could we, green girls, have prepared for this? Yesterday,
we played in sand-carpeted caves. The store we built
sold broken bits of ice plant, empty snail shells, leaves.
Our school’s walls were open sky. We reeled in wonder
from the hills, oblivious to the beckoning
crescendo and to our parent’s hushed communion.
When our bluff swayed into the undulation, we ran
into the still streets of our suburb, feet burning
against a fury that we did not know was change.
October 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
We went out to look at the Harvest Moon, but it looked like any other full moon. No round-bellied, pumpkin-colored menacingly gracious goddess for Manhattan—no, a distant, silvery sphere, eager to stay far away from the embarrassment of Earth.
Later, we watched a program on marine life: a large peculiar fish with a squiggly nose swimming in a cloudy hum of blue, then just as we relaxed into that, a sea turtle caught in a fishing net, fighting, winding itself into an ever more impossible knots. I wanted humanity to go extinct then. We’re going to lose millions of species as it is, but if humans survive, they’ll keep despoiling, maybe more carefully, but always taking far more than their fair share of resources.
I would prefer it if a couple of million of us could thrive gently on the earth, spread out, using renewable energy and clean tech to live comfortable, exploratory lives. But if I could chose only survival or not, without conditions, I would end us. And I’d even do it right now, not say, “Let it happen after I’m dead, after the children are dead,” etc. But of course I can’t make that choice, so it doesn’t matter. Instead I try to get back in a fiction-writing mode, vividly aware that my girlish dreams of “immortality” for my work are not only limited by my talent, but more severely limited by what I can imagine future people would want to read from this generation, the generation they will hate the most.
They’ll forgive Homer, Shakespeare and Keats, Jane Austin, Scott Fitzgerald, Balzac, Proust. I don’t know if they’ll forgive anyone who was adult after 1960. Certainly not us. How could they, reading our newspapers, watching our TV—the stultifying stupidity and greed, the utter lack of concern for nature, animals, our descendants….
I think of how hard it is and has been to forgive those whom I blame for blighting some part of my life—and that’s nothing, tiny emotional pain—nothing compared to what we’re doing to the world and future.
They will hate us and envy the world we had, which we complained of. Oh, those terrible, tiny airplane seats, the lines at Security, the taxi lines. Obesity in America! High gas prices! They’ll want to come back and slit our throats; you know they will. The Midwest and West will be like Australia in a bad year; the coasts and river valleys will flood all the time. FEMA will be stretched very, very thin, so thin it will be invisible. There won’t be enough firefighters and the wildfires will take the trees and houses and animals and people and it will be tragic but in other places they’ll wait out the hurricane and wonder: which is worse, fire or rain?
I find it almost more painful to imagine those people and how they will think of us than the actual damage and how soon it will happen. We have no experience of this. We hate the past if it’s hurt us directly—if our parents were in the death camps, or our great-grandparents were slaves—but mostly it’s a tableau of wonder, disgust, drama, oddity: our storybook. Our origins. What we are better than (smarter than), or what we long for wistfully—the pastoral joys of 17th century England, the glory that was Rome, America before the white man came, the dinosaurs!
We don’t look back and say, you bastards. You greedy, evil pieces of shit. How dare you. How dare you. Come back to life so I can kill you, you Richie Rich trust-fund babies, you overprivileged, clueless twits living in your bubble…just look at you on that endless video and film you left behind, how you whine and pontificate, proclaim each other the enemy of workingman, the middle class, the lovers of freedom, the real Americans. Socialist Muslim. Heartless Capitalist. You’re all the same, you’re monsters…you have no clue what life is like for the rest of us…
I’ve heard people say, now and then, that they fear what their grandchildren will think about them. But as a novelist I can’t help but go along with the climate scientists, shouting into the wind: It will be so much worse than you imagine.
The White Room
The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.
They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me–
And then didn’t.
Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild
Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.
There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.
The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room.
The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,
Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as “perfect.”
Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.
Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light–
And the trees waiting for the night.