A love poem in 2021: we would do anything
The following prose poem was written as a stream of consciousness outlet at a few random points over the past year. Writing as catharsis and sharing as vulnerability.
I went for a run this morning. I walked out the door and the sun was still rising pink in the east. The passenger side window of a neighbour’s truck was smashed in, glass still lying around. I only noticed because the darkness inside the truck caught my eye, with no light reflecting. Strange times. The poles are moving wider apart. The ice is melting faster and faster. The people flowing apart like oil and water. To the north, to the south, to the right to the left. It hurts when the tendons stretch and the muscles tear and the bones crack. But what hurts the most is when the heart breaks, pumping blood in one ventricle and out the other until the sides don’t match up anymore and the blood is just squirting, gushing everywhere. Such a waste. A miserable waste.
Paypal sent out a message to its customers about the “health of the global economy” and the “financial ecosystem” … deeply misleading terms and metaphors.. Yes we should be talking about the ways that the economy and ecosystems are connected and wrapped up in each other and in our collective survival.. but to imply that the economy IS an ecosystem without addressing the very real impact on actual living ecosystems is bad practice. Paypaypaypay up pal, “pal,” “buddy,” “friend.”
When we are ordered into lock down, to prevent the spread of a virus, many who have Wi-Fi at home, smart phones, tablets, game consoles, flat screen TVs, laptops, wireless ear buds, smart home features… will just tap into infinite streaming entertainment and social media. We will plug ourselves in to the virtual reality predicted by Stephenson, Gibson, Dick, Shirow...It won’t be a computer chip or a port implanted in the brainstem. It will be mundane. It won’t be the gradual migration from physical to virtual that has been happening over decades. It will be a push, a tipping point, driven by fear, paranoia, health advisories and government orders. The vivid contrast of the shadows cast by sunlight onto a blanket of fresh snow, or the visceral experience of walking in a crowded open-air market, smelling fish, perfume, sweaty armpits, will fade away. Sensations we took for granted as a normal part of life for countless generations, will lose their meaning and become irrelevant, forgotten. Children who have never known anything other than life on a screen will weather the transition most easily. Older generations who are young enough to have adopted virtual habits, skills with technology will fare better than those who have resisted the trends or been left out due to poverty, marginalization. The IRL story is theirs.
White rabbits dart across a field, two of them racing, reacting to each other, pausing totally frozen and then bounding sideways. Their coats are beginning to show signs of spring. A few brown hairs infiltrating the snowy white winter camouflage. Their evolutionary biology driving their existence in this winter climate on the northern prairie. Even when the prairie has turned into paved roads in suburban neighbourhoods, school yards and parking lots. How many generations did it take to grow that cover? Seven young hares sit motionless on the asphalt of the vast, mostly empty, hotel parking lot. Some days there are 5 some days there are 3, some days 7. They are spaced out across the expanse almost invisible. Bodies resembling a chunk of snow that fell off a mud flap or wheel well of a truck, or a large round river rock like the ones we see in xeriscapes around the city. Their ears are laid down flat on their backs, no hare-like features presenting, other than the orange eye, watching attentive, but not moving unless you get too close. The magpies call to each other and dance on the roof tops, printing patterns with their chicken toes on the skiff of snow.
Slow, slow, sloooow, sllllloooooowww, ssssssssssssslllllllllllllooooooooooooowwwwwww.
Halting, stopping, canceling, closing, preventing, shutting down, arresting, minimizing.
To flatten the curve.
But which curve? The coronacurve? Or the emissions curve? Or the extinction curve? The warming curve?
When economists and politicians are saying we need to do something about climate change, you know it’s bad.
There is a tension between our collectivist and individualist impulses. “In this together… apart,” Is the slogan of this global crisis. And on some level, we mean it. World peace. Until the borders close and the guns are primed, and the preppers are laughing in their bunkers.
The climate continued to grow more unpredictable, with more catastrophic consequences. Humans continued to shelter within life pods landscaped in virtual reality, occasionally disrupted by the impact of weather events, until engineered environments became more universally possible. Steady use of fossil fuels was necessary to power massive server farms in warehouses requiring intensive air conditioning and bots to repair and maintain them. Petroleum based quantities of plastics were required to build networks of hermetically sealed pods. Reduced air traffic and vehicle traffic balanced out increased fossil fuel powered electricity and heating for pod farms and server farms as well as running fully automated factories. All agriculture was automated, a series of vats of algae and bio-engineered protein. But for those who didn’t make it into the pods…. the sun continued to rise, the earth to turn, life went on.
You can imagine some combination of The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, 1984, Brave New World, I Robot… Wachowskis meet Butler, meet LeGuin, meet Piercy, meet Asimov, meet Orwell, meet Huxley, meet Wells. A chain of prophecies, strung with the beads of the moment… like a charm bracelet, a talisman of beliefs, a prayer for the future, worn on a grandchild’s wrist or tucked away in an antique jewelry box. Communist, capitalist, fascist, anarchist, utopian, dystopian. It can be hard to pick out the political bias of sci-fi genre writers when the future has caught up with its fictional self and the socio-economic, geo-political landscapes have transformed many times over, morphing ideologies as the world expands and shrinks.
The messages of past visionaries can be lost in translation, cautionary tales warning of grotesque scenarios long since realized and surpassed. One wonders how much these stories have shaped our current reality and what might have come to pass had they never been told? Who has the time to write books, the connections to get published? Who were these storytellers, visionaries? Are their stories inevitable expressions of the dominant western, teleological worldview, not a critical lens through which to examine flaws in our social structure?
Perhaps the older traditional legends, myths and fairy tales are more apt in our collapsing ephemeral times. Chicken Little. The Giant Turnip. Little Red Riding Hood. Napi and the Big Rock. Raven Steals the Light. Weendigo. Anansi. Ganesh. Each of these stories is rooted in cultural traditions that grew out of a particular place, global and historical context. These stories contain messages coded in language, in symbols, archetypes and imagery that speak to our younger selves, reinforcing the social contract, the beliefs and values of the society and the relationship with fellow creatures, local ecosystems, survival. As human societies have become so fragmented, worldviews stretched and scattered across continents and lost generations, our stories have followed us but have not kept up. If we are to continue, we need new versions, translations of these fables, legends, stories that teach us or remind us of our place in the world.
Chicken Little was afraid the sky was falling when an acorn fell on her head. She set out to warn others that the sky was falling, and she gathered followers. It turned out the sky was not literally falling, but Chicken Little and her friends still met their end as an opportunistic fox gobbled them up while pretending to join their procession. Chicken Little teaches us that it is silly to believe the world is ending and if you insist on it, you will bring about your own demise. And then there is the story of the boiling frog…
The greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus), is extirpated, has disappeared, from the wild in Alberta but survives in endangered species status in some areas of the midwestern US. Although vanished in Treaty 7 territory, the dance of the prairie chicken is immortalized in Blackfoot/Niitsitapi powwow dancing tradition. Siksika men honour the lost chicken’s art, performing with regalia that resembles the bird’s impressive plumage.
What if a version of this story of resilience, keeping a tradition alive across species and across generations, became a legend to guide us? What if the traditional Indigenous stories, knowledge grounded in this place, were the stories we all learned in school, in the media, from our parents?
Who am I to invent or recommend stories about this place? I am a settler-colonizer, feeling out of place in the whirlwind of history that has landed me here and now. I am filled with sadness and longing for a different story, one in which my ancestors did not loot and pillage and plunder every corner of the world, spreading death and destruction so that their descendants may live with unfathomable excess of material wealth, but suffering broken, empty hearts and failing to belong anywhere. Dreaming of a different story in which we are accountable to each other, the land and future generations.
I walk up the hill and down to the river, observing the plants and animals who make their homes here, trying to understand their lessons about survival and belonging.
If we aren’t too cynical, lost, hopeless, we may use this life to repair and mend the damage done by past generations and our own complicity in ongoing tyranny.
Hope might be the beacon that guides our progress; however, we must do more than hope. Hope feels naïve, hollow, deceptive. But then, if we are not motivated, sustained by hope, what could possibly keep us going?
Love is the only thing that can make us better. Love is change. Love is interdependence. Love is the power to transform and create.
We would do anything to help, rescue, care for our beloved.