Art | Fiction | Poetry| Nonfiction | Plays| Films| Interviews
FIND WORKS FROM 16 DIFFERENT CREATIVES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
GREEN ZINE APRIL 2022
A DONATION BASED ZINE
FIND WAYS ON HOW TO SUPPORT THE INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR CLIMATE AND SOCIETY.
TABLE OF CONTENTS FICTION
by Gabriella Jording
by JP Seabright 6
GREEN BLUE GREEN 17
by Julia Ruth Smith
UNTITLED by Rune Davino-Collins
VIEW by Gladys Siddi
WHERE THE METAL MEETS THE SHORE by Carlin McCarthy
SPACESHIP EARTH 40
by Mary Valerio
WHERE THE METAL MEETS THE SHORE 3 by Carlin McCarthy
ROSE APPLE RAIN
by Carlin McCarthy
by Lorelei Bacht 15
I DID NOT PROTECT THE OCEAN AND IT'S TOO LATE by Emma Goldman-Sherman
by Lorelei Bacht
WINTER WOODS by Gabriella Jording
by Mark Hammerschick
PLEASE DON'T LET ME LEAVE YOU by Clara Sharell
LOOKING BEYOND THE IMPERFECTIONS EXPECTATIVE
WHERE THE METAL MEETS THE SHORE 4 by Carlin McCarthy
PISCES SEASON I by Michael Russell
WHERE THE METAL MEETS THE SHORE 2
JUGANDO CON FUEGO by Juan Cassiani
WISTERIA AND THE WHALE: SYNCHRONICITY, SERENDIPITY, AND HOPE DURING THE PLAGUE
by James B. Nicola PLAY
by Brett Wolfe
NO COLD WAR by Gerard D'Albon THANK YOU TO OUR EDITORS
EDITOR IN CHIEF : JASMINE FERRUFINO FICTION: MASON MARTINEZ LASSITER JAMISON TABATHA MILLER NONFICTION: FREDERICA DANZINGER MAGGIE CONLEE SHAYLA DRZYCIMSKI POETRY: THOMAS ORR BRITT TRACHTENBERG JULIA WATSON KAITLYN CROW KEEP YOURSELF UPDATED ON OUR SOCIALS @chaoticmerge @chaoticmergemagazine @chaoticmergemagazine
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Hello Everyone, I hope you are reading this zine on Earth Day somewhere under a tree (possibly a wisteria tree). I hope these works from all these creatives reminds you of all our different perspective of life; whether on this day you want to acknowledge, find a solution, be aware, or embrace our planet, there is a piece in here for you. The Creators in this zine have created impactful narratives, powerful prose, and striking imagery that I hope will linger in your thoughts for a while as it did for me. On this glorious day, I hope you enjoy all these works and that you think about donating to The International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Our Editors chose to donate all the profits of this zine to Research Institute for Climate and Society because we believe change can come. To make those changes, we must support the research that will help us get there. We hope you can join in supporting them. Stay Chaotic, Jasmine Ferrufino Editor in Chief
INFO ON ORGANIZATION OF OUR CHOICE What does the Research Institute for Climate and Society do?
The mission of the IRI is to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries. The IRI conducts this mission through strategic and applied research, education, capacity building, and by providing forecasts and information products with an emphasis on practical and verifiable utility and partnership. For more information find them at iri.columbia.edu To donate to the Research Institute for Climate and Society Scan the QR Codes Below: Donate on their Website
Donate through Chaotic Merge
rose apple rain by Lorelei Bacht april pouring buckets, pounding clumps of clouds onto the tin roof, beating the frangipani raw: sonorous, ill-timed timpani. our house a thorough lack of preparation for torrents: tangles of wet clothes and leaves on the porch, in overlays of green. we assume discontent, lament, hypothesise... then admit our delight at a chance for hard work: this is sunday taken care of. pink plastic broom in hand, i build castles of pine needles, bird nests, snake skins. the world collapsed onto itself: tree trunks and honeycombs in the garage, half the roof gone – perhaps, this is our chance to start anew.
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I Did Not Protect the Ocean and It's Too Late
by Emma GoldmanSherman
clicked delete I swiped as my heart was mincing onions and bitter mist of their juice in my eyes twisted my fingers so the ocean goes I was tired, sore I'd been working out annoyed with how stretched my thighs and my things and money tight my screen unbelievably bright my hope in the other room drinking wine to ease down the salty chips I drown, a crunch past caring if the ocean went the ocean went with a sound like a chord all that's left is the floor sucking from the space where my feet once made indentations in the sand now dryerased as if the ocean never was the opposite of small, salt water taffied roaring I'm grateful for apathy to protect me from want with the ocean gone I may not be here long myself I may not be here long
CONSUMPTION by JP Seabright
This is the story of the last journey I will ever take. I am writing it down because I want there to be something left of me after I’m gone. Some remains that sum up the weight of me, the accumulation of time and thought and pain. When I put it like this, I realise how pointless it’s all been, all these years. Life’s purpose seems to be purely to consume and then be consumed. Where is the beauty in that? The joy? The glory? Where is the justification in all that consumption? I am bloated with the world’s greed and selfishness. I am constipated with humanity’s relentless urge to burn everything in its path for that brief hit of the blaze - the flame of consumerism and capitalism - its degeneracy. How we have all been fooled into thinking more is better. Not all of us. There are some cultures, clearly more advanced than the so-called developed West, who are not hoodwinked by the ephemeracy of shiny glittery things, the transience of all this fucking stuff, who are not infected with obsessive consumption disorder. I suffered from it too once. I know how it feels. I was caught in that trap - consume or be consumed. My foot on the
accelerator. My heart in the garbage. But now I must take my leave. I close my notebook and walk to the bathroom. This is the last time I will brush my teeth. I better make it a good one, clean them properly. A full two minutes. Thirty seconds each. My molars aren’t in bad shape, only a few fillings, not too bad for a forty-something. I pick at my top left canine. I always felt mine looked particularly wolf-like and unattractive. But that won’t matter anymore. Two minutes doesn’t sound long but it’s long enough. Long enough for lots of things. As it turns out I don’t even need thirty seconds. I twist and pull and wrench out my top left canine with the pliers in only seventeen. It hurts. It hurts like hell and there’s a lot of blood, more than I was expecting. I hold the tooth aloft in front of the bathroom mirror, baring my bloody new lopsided smile. I should extract its twin on the other side too, but it’s really fucking painful and I have other things I need to do today. I wipe down the sink to remove the globules of blood and throw my toothbrush away, then retire to the lounge. Clearly this phrase is an invention made up by people who watched too
many Merchant & Ivory films in the 1980s, but I’ve always liked the sound of it and wanted to write it down. I sit on the sofa for a few minutes, pause for thought. I know exactly what I should do next, I’ve been planning this for over a year. My last day on Earth. I head into the kitchen and open the fridge. It is pleasantly empty. I have been gradually working through my food supplies over the last few weeks in preparation for this day. Finishing off the fresh items, leftovers and emergency processed goods at the bottom of the freezer, then tins and packets from the back of the cupboard. I've enjoyed planning my food shop so much more whilst working out the minimum number of items I could buy to have just enough food to last me through the week. It's been quite a challenge. I have found the minimalism, the extreme avoidance of waste, most satisfying. It's had an impact on my own waist too. I'm noticeably leaner, tighter, emptier, and this has immeasurably improved my mood. I’ve found the increasing light-headedness has its own meditative quality. My jaw is throbbing. Pain washes in and out of my mouth in waves. It's a welcome change, something intensely tangible to focus on for a while. I consider pulling more teeth. I'd rather like to empty my head in the same way I've gradually emptied my stomach, but the kitchen clock reminds me that I don't have time. The last thing I want is to feel rushed today. I take out the half-empty yogurt pot from the fridge and eat it standing with the door still open. It reminds me of previous years when I would bathe in the illicit and alluring glow from the open fridge door in the middle of the night,
searching for snacks, looking for comfort, turning to food to fill me when everything was empty inside. I note with satisfaction how much I have evolved since then. How I am now emptier than ever, truly so, having purged myself of so much unnecessary consumption. As a result, I have never felt better. The yoghurt is cool and soothes the raw bloody gap between my lateral incisor and first premolar, the one that contains my first ever filling. Perhaps I should have removed that one, I wonder, to rid myself of all impurities? But it's too late now, and it doesn't really matter. I drop the empty yoghurt pot into the bin and wash the spoon under the tap before placing it back in the drawer. I close the fridge door out of instinct, then open it again, forgetting myself. It is now completely empty. I switch the fridge off, leaving the door ajar to avoid mustiness and take out the rubbish from the kitchen bin. The morning air is cold, but not unpleasant. The bitter chill of winter has done its worst, Spring will soon be on its way. I wonder, briefly, if I should not have stayed around to see it. But no, it's better this way, no need to get one’s hopes up. The stripped back astringency of winter suits me better than summer’s overblown excess. I'm ready, everything else has been sold, donated, or recycled. There is nothing more for me to cleanse, purge, or excrete. Except myself. I close and lock the front door. Then think better of it and unlock it again. No need to lock it anymore. No point. It would be silly and wasteful if anyone in the coming days or weeks should have to break the door down. I lift the bolt from the inside, put it on the latch, then close the door softly again. It's sufficiently stiff,
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a good tight fit, so it's unlikely to swing open unless in a strong gale. I walk to the front gate, open it, then close it behind me, leaving the modest perimeter of my property for the last time. I walk at a comfortable pace, but one with purpose and anticipation, towards the Metro station. Somewhere above me, on one of the few remaining trees on the street, a blackbird chatters to itself. The sun weakly, almost apologetically, appears from behind a cloud, as if it had been doing something out of sight it shouldn't have been, and knows it's a little late for its appointment. I, on the other hand, am perfectly on time for mine. It is shaping up to be a good day. Except the yoghurt pot bothers me. Why did I put it in the general rubbish bag and not wash it out and add to the recycling as usual? This is most uncharacteristic. I was clearly not thinking, not in my right mind. Am I in my right mind now? Am I nervous about my appointment, or excited? Either way, distracted. Perhaps it was the jarring pain inside my jaw, the missing tooth causing an absence of thought. I consider for a moment going back to fish it out of the rubbish, cleaning it and putting it in the recycling instead. But the recycling bins were taken by the council yesterday morning. They always arrive just before 6am, waking me without fail. I took it to be a good sign that the recycling was due for collection the day before. It pleased me greatly that the last detritus of my existence wouldn't remain on my property after I'd left. But the empty yoghurt pot preys on my mind. I didn't even wash it. People don't realise that most of their recycling is never actually recycled. It all has to be clean you see. Emptied of any remnants of food or dirt, any
non-recyclable material removed, and then washed. Properly washed. Otherwise it's treated like any other item of rubbish. I was shocked when I discovered this, having made efforts to be environmentally conscious and to always place items in the correct recycling bins my entire adult life. But this is the big Eco-con. I have been religiously deconstructing items and washing them ever since. I haven’t travelled on the Metro now for a few months. I avoid it whenever possible, but for my last job it was unavoidable for the commute into the office. Since I left, I’ve had no need to travel across the city, or even into the centre. What is of interest there? Just more shops, more restaurants, yet more places of endless consumption and waste. Wasteful consumption. Utterly pointless. Consumption simply for the sake of consuming something, for people to fill up their empty lives. Not for me anymore. Since I left my job - I resigned before I was sacked, it was no longer tenable to stay in those circumstances. Since I left, I’ve been happy to live a quiet life and remain in the small periphery of my local community. I had my house and garden. I could buy what food I needed from the local farmers’ market. If it hadn’t been winter, I might have tried to grow my own in the back, convert the rhododendron bushes into a small vegetable patch. For a few weeks I wondered if it might be worth staying around a little longer in order to try this experiment. To live as cleanly and lightly as possible, to avoid placing my footprint upon the earth. But it’s already too late, I know that. I’ve already consumed far more than I ever needed. Than I ever deserved. Than I can ever repay.
It’s dirty and noisy in my Metro carriage, and the sheer intensity of the noise, the fluorescent lights and unavoidable proximity and unpleasantness of other people is almost more than I can bear. I have to force myself not to disembark when the doors next open. I remind myself that this is the last time I will ever have to ride this train, to interact with other people. It will be worth it in the end. A young man joins my carriage. He may technically still be a boy, it’s hard to tell. His limbs are long and gangling as if the rest of his body hasn’t caught up yet. None of this is a concern to me, but he opens a large greasy bag of chips and the smell of fat fills the air. This is a concern. It’s nauseating. I fear I’m going to throw up. To avoid this potential social mishap I hurl myself off the train as soon as its doors open at the next station. I’m only two stops from my destination and the gaps are shorter as we near the centre. I reckon I can walk it from here. I check my watch. I’ve got time. I’m running ahead of schedule so I would otherwise be early. I need some fresh air, to get away from the stench of that greased-up food, tainting the inside of my mouth, still throbbing and raw, and coating it with fat. Even the thought of someone else consuming such fattening waste makes me gag. I ache to be empty. I wish to be purged. Instead, I’m still full to bursting, in belly and in brain. For, despite myself, over the years, I have spent hours, days filling myself up, again and again. But no longer, no more. Today is the day of the Great Cleansing.
I thought I would enjoy the walk, the ‘fresh air’, although it is no longer fresh in
this sad and stultifying city. I thought I would enjoy the exercise, and the chance to see life and buildings and people and history and… But I don’t see any of those things. Just excess, waste, overconsumption, and flagrant greed. It brings up the bile that I had swallowed down earlier in the Metro, and now wish I hadn’t. I wish I had let it all come up, vomiting out whatever is left in there, and dumping it onto the dirty grey tiles where it belongs. I arrive at my destination with only seven minutes to spare. But it's enough time to get settled, to prepare, relax. I’m having an enema, or rather a colonic irrigation, there’s a difference you see. I didn’t know this previously, but I’ve had time to look into it. An enema involves a one-off infusion of water into the colon. A tube up the bum, basically. This can be useful as a quick fix, a bit more than a good wipe, to clear out the lower colon. In contrast, a colonic irrigation is a thorough cleansing. Multiple infusions, a veritable baptism of the bowel, to sluice away any last remains of sinful consumption. I’m not a religious person, but I do see this as something of a spiritual experience. A rebirth. Being born anew. If only for a few hours.
I haven’t written any details about the colonic. I don’t think it’s likely to be of interest to anyone who might read this diary after I’ve gone. But I will say that afterwards I had the most beatific moment of utter peace. More than that of grace. With such utter emptiness, this cleansing - a purification no less - I felt blessed. Forgiven. I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears. The lady with the hose, as it were, said that people often respond in this way and it’s nothing to be
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concerned about. She prattled on. I wanted her to be quiet, to leave me in this state of gentle awakening. I felt weightless, floating, transcendent. It was, I hope, only a glimpse of what is to come. Unfortunately, this state of bliss was broken when I noticed the practitioner, or ‘cleaning lady’ as she jokingly described herself to me, throw her mask, plastic gloves, and gown in the bin after the procedure was finished. I asked if they could be recycled, and she almost laughed, ‘Oh no dear, they get incinerated. No one would want to use them again!’ I tried to explain that the recycling process would render them entirely new in that respect. The plastic and materials used would be melted down, re-moulded and thoroughly disinfected, so there would be no danger of any cross-contamination. She shook her head at me, as if I was crazy imagining that anyone would ever want to reuse them. This lack of understanding, peoples’ unrepenting refusal to even try to understand the process and benefits of recycling has driven me to despair over the last few years. I became an environmental evangelist. Not quite an activist, that seemed to require too much proactive interaction with other people social engagement has never been my strong point. But I vowed never to let the opportunity go when it presented itself, to educate those who had yet to see the light, on what capitalism and consumerism had done to them. Has done to us all. We are literally eating ourselves and this planet alive.
My last job was a stopgap, something to tide me over whilst I looked for something more convenient, easier to get
to, perhaps with better benefits and holiday entitlement too. It wasn’t a bad role, Senior Sales Manager, but the agency hadn’t been entirely truthful about the product I would be selling and the end user in the supply chain. The ‘product’ being our waste. Yours, mine, the entire output of recyclable waste in the United Kingdom. Or so we are led to believe. Since this waste isn’t recycled, it’s shipped. All 300 tonnes of it. That’s 300 tonnes a day, well over 100,000 tonnes each year. Loaded onto vast container ships and sailed thousands of miles across the globe and dumped, literally, in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Some of it used to get tipped into landfill, back in the optimistic days of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, and there are various sites still scattered around the U.K., mainly in so-called ‘undesirable’ areas. The sort of places that are prime real estate for nuclear power stations. But there’s just too much of it and we’ve run out of space. And like nuclear waste, it’s a ticking time bomb. There’s just too much waste for us to bury or burn safely in this country. So we ship it somewhere else, to a country we don’t give a shit about, and where it doesn’t matter (to us) whether it’s safe or not. I was shocked when I discovered this. No, more than shocked. I felt I had been lied to, cheated, that everything I thought I knew was wrong. The morning after this painful realisation, when a colleague finally explained to me the 'products' that we were shipping across the world, I woke as if from a dream, as if the scales had been lifted from my eyes. I was finally seeing the world as it really is, not how our politicians and media want us to believe. It was unbearable. A sudden psychic shock to my system. I had seen the future, and it hurt.
I left the clinic feeling physically lighter and mentally cleansed, but with the nagging splinter of the lady’s words reminding me of the sordid waste-heap of humanity I have been compelled to live in. It brought back to mind my yoghurt pot, sitting uncleansed, and therefore unrecyclable. I feel I have failed that yoghurt pot, but I cannot return home now, there isn’t enough time. I will pay for it at least, one way or another. The nurse at the colonic clinic wouldn’t let me leave the room without drinking half a pint of water, in order to rehydrate myself. I don’t mind the water consumption but, being such an empty vessel, I feel it sloshing around uncomfortably inside me. I want to be empty, completely empty. Purged. Tabula rasa.
And now, here we are. At the end. A different clinic, but not so far away. I was able to walk again, this time by the river, avoiding people as much as possible. I am here early for my late afternoon appointment as there’s a lengthy check-in process and I’d like to see the sunset one last time. I feel serene. Calm. Composed. The yoghurt pot is no longer a burden. I have forgiven myself in advance of my forthcoming rebirth. I do not wish to be concerned with material things any longer. I am asked if I wish to phone anyone or have a last meal, but I am confused by the concept of the first option and disgusted by the idea of the latter. It raises a sudden fire in me, a frustration. Why would I want another meal, why would I
wish to consume anything? Have they really not understood? But I calm myself quickly, reminding myself that the person asking is merely a nurse assisting the process. No doubt he hasn’t read my file; he doesn’t understand my reasons for being here. I ask instead to have a few moments to finish writing my diary. There’s no need to document my final moments or movements any longer, but I wish there to be an accurate record of why I am doing this. My last consultation with the doctor went well. She asked all her questions. I answered them, presumably to her satisfaction. I signed the consent forms, the insurance waivers, the legal rights of any potential beneficiaries to make a claim. You can choose, if you wish, for certain items to be stored for a length of time – I believe 50, 70 or 100 years are the options – depending on the age of the client. But, other than these written notes, I do not wish for anything of my existence to be kept. Why would I? The whole point is to burn my existence and the last 45 years of its unnecessary gross consumption off the face of this Earth. A year ago, when my application was provisionally accepted, I was asked to keep a detailed diary for the last six months to prove that I am of ‘sound mind’. Apparently, a lot of people change their mind about the procedure as a result of noting their thoughts and actions in the months and weeks leading up to it. If it hadn’t been for these rules, I would have done it ages ago, but I understand there’s the risk of legal action from estranged relatives that the clinic itself needs to avoid, as well as ensuring there’s an appropriate paper trail to satisfy the ethics board when you help people to end their life.
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I check the electronic clock positioned high up on the wall. It is nearly time. Any minute now the last shipment that I was responsible for, before I left my job, will be coming into dock. At Harwich they'll be expecting it empty. Hundreds of vast containers that were loaded with the effluence of our consumption, returning for a refill, the contents having been dumped in Jenjarom and Klang for small children to pick through the rubbishrubble mountains searching for something they can clean and sell, or take back to their family to use themselves. Plastic bags and yoghurt pots. But the container ship won't be empty. I changed the instructions to logistics at the last moment. It will be full, full to bursting with the detritus of our lives. And then the containers will be delivered outside Parliament and dumped. It wasn't easy to arrange. It cost me. I remortgaged the house, but it will be worth it. There is an underworld of wastemanagement in much the same way there are drug-traffickers and an underground slave-trade. Just because it's under the surface doesn't mean it's not there. Where there's demand, there's always supply. The doctor returns with my morphine injection. I didn’t ask for it, but it’s compulsory. Since euthanasia was legalized in this country, clients have been able to choose the method of dispatch, but pain control is still mandatory. There are several options for death. There was a menu. It came with the glossy acceptance pack that also contained advertising for coffins and funerals. I found the thick paged glossiness of the package unnecessary and distasteful. I recycled it as soon as I had chosen. For me there was no real option. I have to be consumed as I have consumed.
She has administered the injection and I’m left alone in the Peace Zone, as they call it. But I will not find peace until it’s finally happening, until I am no longer a stain on this once-beautiful Earth. No longer able to defile it with my waste. As lightly as I have stepped these last few months, even that has been too much. I’ve felt it. It pains me. Even my breath is sordid, tainted, a further burden on the slag-heap of humanity. In a few minutes she will return and take my notebook away, lock it in the storage box bearing my number for the minimum 50 years. No point keeping it longer than that. I expect the police will come looking, but they won’t find anything in there. I’ve not tried to hide anything. It will be apparent very soon, and once the flame is lit, it will be too late. So what happens next? A sublime beautiful nothing. Utter emptiness and weightlessness. I can’t wait to feel that for the first time in my life, even if the experience will be fractionally brief. I will soon be led to ‘The Exit’, as I overheard a nurse calling it earlier. The room in which my body, emptied of everything I have consumed, will itself be consumed. To the flames. And then I will disappear. Into thin air.
Pisces Season I by Michael Russell again i’m dreaming of a bedroom without water floorboards bleached of fungi clustered mould spores fuzzy patches that tumor the ceiling spread like cancer into the porous drywall
the cold tongue of ground water will slither & swell into a liquid glacier today marks the third time this month my tiles bubbled & squished lifted again i’m dreaming the impossible a winter vacation to a city with a gated tide a virgin pina colada at my bed side a stack of favourite books my feet buried in dry cement concrete uncracked by years of water the rusted carousel of a landlord who shrugs & says i’m sorry my hands are tied in winter.
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Green Blue Green - a Triptych by Julia Ruth Smith
WISTERIA AND THE WHALE: SYNCHRONICITY, SERENDIPITY, AND HOPE DURING THE PLAGUE by James B. Nicola “If you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it,” said Alice Walker in her famous novel, “I think it pisses God off.” Such a theology, of course, takes as a given some Divine Presence caring whether you notice violets popping up in a sea of grass, or wisteria blossoms cascading from above, inviting you to look skyward. As a child in central New England, I felt enthralled and replenished by walks through lush woodlands, drives in the country, and hikes along mountain trails. Spring and autumn boasted parades of colors, textures, and aromas; winter offered sensational servings of snow; summer never ceased to enchant with its daily cycle of sunrise, sunset, moonlight, starlight, and fireflies. Whenever a learned astronomer predicted a solar eclipse, you bet I followed suggestions for how to protect my eyes in order to observe it. This past December, did you catch the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, the “Christmas star”? I missed its peak in Manhattan, due to three nights of cloud
cover. But I did manage to catch a fourplanet alignment back in 2003. Similarly, as Halley’s comet passed by Earth in 1986, its one time per 76-year orbit, it ended up being visible only from the southern hemisphere. Drat. But in 1996, a more recently discovered comet appeared, visible even from my midtown apartment. I began to look forward to it each evening as a dependable visitor. It made me smile—for no particular reason, at first. But over the course of several months, it seemed to be saying something —or, like a work of abstract art, evoking a thought it wasn’t “saying” per se. Which was simply this: to remember that I was not alone. That we were not alone. Nor ever could be, quite. Because the universe was still a work very much in progress. Like us. *** While I knew that my interludes with fauna, flora, and firmament were hardly mine alone, my relationship with nature, ever since childhood, has felt peculiarly personal. Long before my “comet encounter,” in other words. If you’ve ever
fingered the velveteen fuzz of pussywillows in the wild, you, too, might have brought some stalks home with you, as you would a new playmate or friend. The more unexpected the encounter, the more thrilling. Do you remember your first time spotting a shooting star, when you just happened to be looking in the right direction at the right instant? One day, while I was on my paper route, I caught sight of a wild muskrat at the end of my dead-end street, right by my favorite pussy-willow patch. By that time, I well knew how to identify a muskrat—by its tail—from the illustrated Pocket Book of Nature titled Mammals, plus a couple summers at nature camp. No one saw the muskrat that day but me; no one need hear about it today but you. As an adult, I have been fortunate to catch sight of a double rainbow (over Loch Lomond in Scotland, no less) and a triple rainbow (Telluride, Colorado). These surprise occurrences— shooting star, muskrat, triple rainbow— have not only thrilled, but also filled me with a particularly poignant gratitude. With awe, if you will. For the synchronicity. The serendipity. Or something more. Something inscrutable. It was as if the Cosmos—the order of things—had arranged for an occasional “special attraction” around my own personal schedule. Or as if, while I was noticing Nature, Nature—could it possibly be?—was noticing me. Since the pandemic began, such peculiar activity in the natural world has
provided a particularly strange sort of succor. It might require a substantial leap of faith to derive solace from sheer serendipity, hope from mere happenstance. But after I tell you of these experiences, perhaps a little faith won’t seem like such a big leap. *** In New York City, fortunately, I have been able to go outside for a daily jog or walk before most of the world has stirred. That early in the day, it is easy to keep six feet away from fellow walkers and joggers. Spring, never too shabby in Manhattan, was particularly welcome last year, with its annual progression of buds becoming leaves, northward-flocking geese, buds becoming flowers, the return of robins, and so forth. Last year, Manhattan’s regular cast of birds were joined by scarlet tanagers, which I hadn’t seen in over half a century and just happened to come upon a couple of times (I am no birder). A tanager’s bright body against a background of newleaf green is, to the unsuspecting eye, what a Red-Hot® is to a ten-year-old’s tongue. One of my favorite annual arrivals has been the delicate purple of wisteria blossoms. The City’s lushest display is in Central Park’s Conservatory Garden (around 104th Street and Fifth Avenue), a bit beyond walking distance for me. So I generally try to catch it in bloom at two nearer locations: (1) draped all over a pergola which overlooks the band shell just south of 72nd Street (north end of “The Mall”), and (2) hanging from a gigantic “host tree” just north of 72nd Street, mere yards south of the Cherry Hill Fountain (between Bow Bridge and the Daniel Webster statue).
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One May morning I came upon the wisteria in full bloom at location (1) and circled up and around to walk through the tunnel of vines, which is, of course, the purpose of a pergola. Since this seemed to be wisteria’s peak week, I then went to check out the Cherry Hill location nearby. The “host tree” was still there, but no wisteria, neither blossom nor bud. However, I noticed that the vines that had climbed the giant’s trunk for years were suddenly gone. Whether they had been trimmed back by groundskeepers or lost through natural means, I couldn’t say. And what species the “host tree” was, I couldn’t say, either. Not yet. So it seemed that wisteria was to be no more. Ten days later, elated by lateblooming lilacs here and there and having forgotten about wisteria, I happened to stroll by the Cherry Hill Fountain again. And lo and behold, that “host tree” was in full bloom. I walked all around it to check and, yes, I had been right, there were no vines clinging to its bark; nor was any neighboring tree close enough for wayward vines to sneak across treetops. Could it be not a “host tree,” then, as I had assumed for years, but rather, in fact, a wisteria tree? I had seen small wisteria trees, no higher than a ranch house and with trunks no thicker than a baseball bat, in people’s front yards one spring out West. This wisteria tree, if that’s what it was, rose taller than a mansion, its girth so massive I couldn’t wrap my arms around it. Of course I tried. It was magnificent. It felt, again, as if someone, or Someone, wanted to make sure, this
particular May, that I not miss that “wisteria tree” in all its glory. I was grateful. And moved. What happened next is something equally insignificant and equally enthralling. Unless I have a particular errand elsewhere, I enter and exit Central Park at its southwest corner, Eighth Avenue and 59th Street, because I live mid-town west. Always. But this day, for no reason whatsoever, I thought I would walk under a bridge I hadn’t walked under since I could remember, which would take me out of the Park at Seventh Avenue instead of Eighth. Lo and behold yet again, I came upon a tree I never knew was there, not in four decades of strolling Central Park—a second wisteria tree, also in full bloom, whose trunk was also too massive to wrap my arms around. Of course I tried. (It is mere yards northwest of the Dipway Arch, if you want to check it out some spring.)
I was struck not just by the existence of this second breathtaking wisteria tree, but, again, by the timing of its revelation to me. Just when I needed it, a second dose of awe, like a second shot of a vaccine, but on the same day as the first— not ten minutes later, in fact. It confirmed the existence of giant wisteria trees and reaffirmed my belief that nature is at least as wonderful as the virus is horrible and the lynch mob unthinkable. All of which, like us, are works-in-progress. More intriguing than the wisteria’s appearance, though—and more elating— is the inscrutable aspect of the episode.
How come I happened to indulge a caprice to exit the park a different way, that particular day, precisely during the season when the second wisteria tree would happen to cheer me the most? You might have heard of the experiments where it was found that a plant will register an electrical shut-down, something like “fainting,” when a lit match is brought close to it. On the other hand, houseplants tend to thrive better when you speak to them, or even touch them—caress them?—on a daily basis. Was it remotely possible, then, that the second wisteria tree, in some strange way, wanted a hug, too? You’d be within your rights to call me crazy if I believed this, so I’m not saying I believe it. I’m just saying that the thought crossed my mind. For a second or two. After I tried to wrap my arms around the second tree, and couldn’t. You tell me, though: would it be a case of being crazy . . . or connected? OK, all this is only wild interpretation, I know. Sure. Fine. But so are articles about abstract art, aren’t they? And exegeses, for that matter. *** One of my other delights of spring is honeysuckle, particularly when I come upon the aroma first, then locate its unseen source. The second week of June, I happened upon the largest tract I ever encountered in the city. It is in Riverside Park, a few blocks south of the tennis courts at 116th street (along the cast iron fence just west of the two dirt walking paths). Never before had I strolled that
area precisely when the honeysuckle was in full blossom—and full aroma. I also came upon the latest honeysuckle I can remember—the first week in November, no less: back in Central Park, right along the north side of West 72nd Street, just west of Fifth Ave. I flagged complete strangers to point it out. And two or three lowered their ear buds, lifted their eyes from their pixel-laden palms, inhaled, and smiled. A few weeks later, my daft predisposition to annoy total strangers paid off. I was jogging on pier 84 (by West 44th Street) in Hudson River Park early one Wednesday morning and came upon a friend looking out over the water. He told me that a neighbor of his had seen a whale, right there, the previous afternoon! And that I should keep my eyes out, too, in case it showed up today. By my third lap around the pier, my friend had gone. On lap four, a new visitor to the park (not one of the regulars I’ve come to recognize, but a total stranger) sauntered to the farthest end of the pier to look at the river, toward New Jersey, as tourists are wont to do. For the moment we were the only two people there. I flagged him through his ear buds and i-device to tell him to “be on the lookout for a whale because a friend of mine just told me— There it is!” Yes, even before I finished this sentence, I saw, right over his shoulder, by the opposite bank of the river—the whale! If I hadn’t been facing him in precisely the direction I was facing, toward Jersey, I would never have noticed it in the distance. For about twenty minutes, we watched the magnificent cycle of fluke submerging, spume
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emerging from blowhole, head and body breaching, and repeat, as the leviathan wended its way south of the Lincoln Tunnel. Eventually, several such sauntering strangers got some great pictures with their telephoto lenses.
Not to mention checking in on the birds. And the honeysuckle. And you. END
The next day my brother sent me a link to a rather splendid snapshot of what turned out to be a humpback, right under Lady Liberty, courtesy of the BBC and someone with even more serendipitous timing than mine. Coincidence? Sure. But all I was doing was, what, being kind to a total stranger because someone else had just been kind to me, not in doing anything awesome, but just in saying, hey, keep an eye out, because if you’re lucky, you might be in for a treat, spotting a whale in the Hudson River. And the synchronicity of the universe, or so it would seem, responded in kind. (A double treat for me, by the way, in that I also get to use the word leviathan.) Awe for Nature may seem rather trite to those who already dote on wooded walks and hikes up hills. But I feel, no, I know—as sure as that a molecule’s atoms will hold together, or that stars will reappear after a week of cloud-covered skies—that Her magnificence is nothing less than revelation, or even Revelationcapital-R, of the divine work-in-progress, in which we all cannot help but participate, even through the period of the plague. The whale, I know, might never return. But I look forward to catching the wisteria again this coming year and, God willing, the year after as well.
Looking Beyond the Imperfections by Mark Hammerschick
Rattled skin mottled molted that familiar scar cradled in an ancient inner thigh how once those thighs rattled the night raining waves of wonder bobbing on that sturdy sloop off Martha’s Vineyard the sails fore-and-aft rigged full moons everywhere I can still remember that smell salted sea air glinting and gloaming off the water your laugh cutting the night like a rising comet how we have known the the eternity of the event horizon balanced on thin gravity galaxies red shifting how we moved from violet wavelengths to red nanometers rising plasma pulses waves raving radio, infrared, X ray and our favorite ultraviolet ionization breaking the chemical bonds our atoms exploding at the edge of the stern my hand on the rigging your arms clamped on me like a chock-a-block windward and leeward we rode those waves tacking our bodies hugging the shore like I hug you now deep in the fathoms of night knowing love has no depth
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SPIT By Brett Wolfe
CHARACTERS North East / The Listener - a part of the nucleus. Hopeful, to hide their doubting. Listens. Decides. South Pole - a part of the nucleus. Visceral, plagued with intuition and "doing". Core - a part of the nucleus. Wise, loyal unto death. Ideal. North Pole - a part of the nucleus. Worrisome, to prove their care. Rationalizes what they're afraid of. All 4 characters are loosely connected with long trains of fabric, in the same stretched manner as the actual nucleus of a Neutrophil. The actors may simply hold the ends of the fabric, rather than connecting it to any costume. Please keep the pronouns and characters androgynous. Do not individuate them. Split dialogue may be spoken at the same time by characters, or a line may begin later during the other line being spoken and overlap the other line it is paired with
Spit was first produced through Post Theatre Company in LI, NY. Directed by David Apichell Movement by Jade Leah Burns and Logan Kelley North East / The Listener: Dominic Cárdenas South Pole: Maia Isabel Frias Core: Jackson Houska North Pole: Lily Lardon
Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell in the body. They act as scavengers, helping surround and destroy bacteria and fungi that may be present in the body. ... Without their protection, we would die, rather quickly. / I think part of a hero construct is overcoming loss, or being abandoned, or having to make your own way in the world. - Susan Orlean
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Quiet sounds of being submerged in liquid. Everyone dances in a cyclical fashion, suggestive of work and purpose. North Pole stops. NORTH POLE Something’s wrong. Something’s definitely wrong. (A moment. South pole grunts sexually.) What’s that? NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER South pole feeling. A moment. South Pole screams. NORTH POLE How long are they going to do that for! NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER South Pole can’t help it. NORTH POLE I know. It’s life. It’s just life. (Everyone begins swaying again. A loud “swoosh” sound is heard.) NOPE! Did you feel that? Up my collar bone. Blood is never this cold.... (South Pole hyperventilates, then holds their breath.) What is it? What is it boy?— NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER I don’t know what they’re saying. It looks like they’re suffocating. Or drowning. NORTH EAST No—something with water.. about water.
NORTH POLE Something’s wrong wrong.
CORE Support the Being. Silence. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Let’s go back. You’ll lose your voice if you keep yelling. NORTH POLE I can’t lose my voice, we’re a white blood cell. Everything we say is merely figurative mimicry of....figure of.. wait...what? North pole returns to their position. Dance. Work. Rigidity. CORE Our first day alive. Dozens of dead viruses. The Being is pleased.
NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER This cold came out of nowhere. CORE I don’t know about any cold— NORTH POLE (turning to the outside world) That’s not a cold. NORTH POLE ...There’s nothing out there... there’s everything out there..
NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER It looks like saliva.
NORTH POLE We’re outside the Being. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER We are not in the blood anymore. There’s a lot of foreign substance here. It’s okay. CORE Few neutrophilic white blood cells ever secrete through the honored salivary glands. North East begins to look through code written on fabric. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Let me... cross the T’s and dash the G’s... CORE No! I will not wait any longer. You will continue to search. South Pole grabs a piece of fabric and begins pointing towards it, still in their primal state. Everyone stares at them. South Pole shakes, then returns to their original self, releasing their tension. SOUTH POLE Ogh. Whew that was long. Ugh...Hey. Um. Why am I pointing at this? NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER (reading the fabric) ...Is this.. I don’t know what this says. SOUTH POLE That’s odd. Let me see.
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NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER No—no, that’s okay. SOUTH POLE I can read. It’s okay. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER You hold the Being’s nature. You shouldn’t handle anything else. SOUTH POLE What?–
NORTH POLE There’s a reason why you have all the animal intuitions.
SOUTH POLE I can learn! NORTH POLE I’m sorry. No you can’t. (A loud splash. Deep sounds of being submerged underwater.) Oh, one thing after— (North Pole looks outside. Shift.) ... (North Pole returns. They are silent. South Pole sways with Core.) ... NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER After what? (observes the outer world. Shift.) ...Bacteria. Millions. Floating inside of nothing. NORTH POLE Blue and black. Darkness. SOUTH POLE —Darkness? South Pole also looks outside. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER No!— South Pole looks outside. They can’t handle what they see. Shift. They shrink back into primality, a kind of evolutionary regression, moving in fear. NORTH POLE Great. That’s great. We tried, we did.
NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Okay, blue, that, um, the.. the water.. CORE The neurons are still. They haven’t said a word. NORTH POLE I’m gonna—I need to sit— NORTH POLE Right. We’re saliva. Right.
NORTH EAST We’re in the mouth. Secreted from the glands.
South pole shivers, shrieks. NORTH POLE SHUT UP! CORE Silence... everywhere. Just.. silence. NORTH POLE What if we were spat out. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Beings swallow spit. The Being wouldn’t do that. NORTH POLE Not if we’re on a boat. Especially if that boat is in the ocean—Oh my god—are we in the ocean? South Pole has a vocal conniption. North Pole caves into themself. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER We weren’t spat out. We are a white blood cell, we keep the Being alive, and healthy, and.. they take care of us. Give us life.. and, you know what? If we are.. spat out in the.. the ocean, I’m sure there’s... Something. NORTH POLE There’s nothing, there’s nothing, there’s nothing, there’s nothing— CORE CHILDREN! You’re nothing but shameful! We are not in the ocean! (looking out to the world. Shift.) ...But.. the silence.
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NORTH POLE Everything. Everything. Everything. Everything. Everything. Everything. (South Pole cries)
NORTH EAST (to Core) What? What do you see?
NORTH POLE Bacteria. Shrimp. E Coli. Tardigrades. Can’t kill them all. Whales eat bacteria for breakfast. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Did you know? CORE I cannot... NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Look! Look! North and South Pole! See what this is doing to them? CORE ...I—
NORTH EAST Spit it out.
CORE There are things you simply cannot understand. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Now’s not the time for understanding. North Pole and South Pole are losing it in their own individual ways. CORE Trust the Being. They wouldn’t spit us out in the ocean. They need us. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER There are billions of other white blood cells. They need them. Millions born a second. They don’t need us. CORE That’s not true. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER We are dragged around by an ocean, nothing to cling to—millions of bacteria. We can’t get it all— CORE I cannot guarantee the fate of this cell much longer.
NORTH POLE What? CORE Our servitude to the Being has degraded our senses over time. They tell us we’re in an ocean. They lie. Dozens of bacteria, gone. Because of us. Because of us. NORTH POLE There’s one. Right over there. Everyone watches the bacteria pass by slowly. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Do we kill it? NORTH POLE ...Is there a reason to? CORE Our senses deceive us. We are a blight to the Being. Our mechanisms of existence weaken with use, and have turned cancerous. (Core pulls out what seems to be a blade. Everyone is afraid.) The only recourse is to commit cellular apoptosis. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER That’s suicide. CORE As destined by the Being. NORTH POLE We work for the 3 days we’re alive, and this is how the Being treats us? South Pole starts dances harder, more passionately. CORE That is why we exist. NORTH POLE That’s wrong! NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER We all have different parts of the genome. Only one of us would be wrong if it were cancer. South Pole saw it too. (South Pole stiffens for a moment.) They feel everything. Everything at once. Lust, Hunger. Fear. Pain. Anger. Grief. Desire. All of it, at the same time. Every intuition, impulse. They’d know if something was wrong.
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CORE What did you see? South pole tries to speak, but lets out a yell. They tire. NORTH POLE It doesn’t matter. The current. (Terrifying sounds of the ocean swell.) One little cell, an ocean wanting to devour us. I can’t see a bottom to it. There’s no bottom in the ocean. I won’t fight what I can’t see—You know you won’t either! You won’t! We live to serve the Being—wait—we don’t have a Being—ours abandoned us! We’re spit. That’s all we are. South Pole gasps, they return to themself. SOUTH POLE Agh. What’s happening? Why are you yelling? NORTH POLE The Being spat us out into the ocean—
NORTH EAST NO!—
South pole seizes up in fear, and falls to the floor. They transform again. CORE The Being would not do this. They love us. NORTH EAST They do. NORTH POLE Do they? Do they, really, love us, out of the trillions of us in their body? Really? (Core moves to begin slicing away at the fabric.) WOAH WOAH! I never said I wanted to die! CORE There is no other remedy. NORTH POLE East?...East, what— NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER The Being spat us out. The ocean swallowed us up. NORTH POLE ...That wasn’t as hopeful as I thought you would be. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER ...I’m not sure what to be hopeful for anymore.
Silence CORE I thought the Being cared about us. NORTH POLE I thought the Being protected us. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER I thought the Being loved us. We were promised. NORTH POLE We were promised, better than... CORE Better than this. Silence. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER ...Was it ever worth it? Core holds the blade to the air. South Pole jerks to their feet.They stumble and stomp towards Core, slowly. They vocalize their struggle. Climbing up Core’s body, they reach for the blade. Their vocal articulators struggle to form a word. It’s rough, brutish. SOUTH POLE (pushing the word out) NNNNOOOOOOOO! South Pole takes the blade. South Pole tries to speak, but can’t. They stand, now painfully dancing what words can’t say. It’s emotional, potent, chaotic, but purposeful. It is primal. NORTH POLE What are they doing? South Pole collapses, holding the knife. Silence. A moment. I don’t understand. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER (beginning their transcendence) Let’s stop trying to do that. NORTH POLE Oh, oh... okay.
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NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER Do you hear that? (Sounds of the ocean—now graceful, blissful, inviting. The sounds continue on.) We aren’t in the ocean. We are the ocean. A moment. Silence. North East and North Pole fall into transcendence. Core pulls the blade from South Pole. CORE I was made to serve the Being. There is no respite for the abandoned. Core painfully rips the cloth connecting them to the others, connecting the ripped loose ends together. Quickly, the ocean whisks them away. Silence. NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER ...We can be... NORTH POLE ...Be for... NORTH EAST / THE LISTENER ...Just, Be. A moment. South Pole wakes. SOUTH POLE Ugh. Agh. Hi. What were you saying about darkness? Silence. North East and North Pole sway, with no end in mind, but still, content. They just sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway. Sway.
Expectative by Lorelei Bacht
blast of yellow blooms. then the sickly smoke descends, consuming the air. low, slow rolls of pain – something wrong about the light, a faint orange tint. how does one defeat a mythical beast? the air turns to paper cuts. little children breathe rusty nails, the sound of chalk. flora retracts, falls. no more happening until the splutter, the splash, the splurge of blues, greens: half-imagined, halfremembered from seasons past – at last, the monsoon.
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SPACESHIP EARTH by Mary Valerio
For Alexi Arango You wake as the bright crescent of the sun edges over the Earth’s outer atmosphere. Your clock says it is 6:42, but time doesn’t matter much in space. You slap your hand onto the table at the edge of your bed, grab your tablet, and check the date. March 27, T.R. Anthropocene 157. 2107 A.D. Your room is a gray module with one small window looking out into space. A TV screen is mounted on the far left wall, a chair and table wedged in front of it. On the right side, you’ve taped up pictures of your friends from the Academy, who have since moved on to other colonies. Your wall is nearly covered with archival images of Earth—mountains, waterfalls, deserts, forests, animals with rich deep yellow eyes that have long since gone extinct—images from before the Anthropogenic Climate Shift. Your dresser sits at the far end of the room and on top of it you have placed a rock that your friend Jake brought back for you as a souvenir from his last mining trip to Earth. It’s a work day, so you rise and grab your clothes from your dresser. Solid heavy pants, a plain shirt, gloves. You maintain the solar-array-to-battery
connections, patching fraying wires, disconnecting batteries and scraping lithium flakes. It is a good balance of dull and challenging, and you enjoy your work. It keeps Atlantis 2000-Zeta running. You wander, still half-asleep, into the mess hall. Your friends Derek and Jake stand at the counter, waiting for the server to hand them their sugar and caffeine tablets. You know there used to be a drink called “coffee,” from a plant that produced caffeine naturally, but the climate shift has forced it into ever-narrowing growth regions. These days, most caffeine is produced synthetically, unless you’re wealthy enough to have it shipped in from Earth. You join your friends and wait. Derek asks you if you slept all right. Yes, you slept fine. Jake asks you if you want to play a round of video games with him when you’re both done with your work. Sure, that’s fine. You feel like you could use someone to talk to. Especially someone like him, who has seen Earth before and, unlike most people here, will actually take your questions seriously and answer them at length and with some enthusiasm. You reach your spot in line and
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receive your tablets from the server. Her name badge says Taya but you already knew that. You know everyone here. You chat briefly with Taya. Nothing is ever new, but you ask her how her morning has been to be polite, and maybe discuss news from the colonies. You ask her about Earth news. She shrugs. Like you, Taya was born and grew up in Atlantis 2000Zeta and has never touched the Earth. Unlike you, she has no curiosity about it. She knows you are the one who asks too many questions about how caffeine is made and where it is shipped from and whether Earth-coffee is better, and she never has any good answers. She’s learned to find your questions endearing rather than annoying, and you’ve learned to ask less of them. After breakfast, you take the maglev shuttle to the battery array, on the far end and deep below the main decks. You do the work you have learned to do, disconnecting the wires, prying apart the shells of battery packs, and inspecting the insides. They’re mostly fine; here’s one that’s reduced in efficiency (you need to scrape off an ugly lumpy flake of lithium); here’s one that’s almost dead. Luckily, you’ve received a new shipment of lithium from Earth, and once the fab crew has it assembled, you can install the new battery to replace it. That’s next week’s job. You wonder for a moment where all this lithium is coming from and if it will run out in your lifetime. You know the answer to that question. You’ve looked up the estimated lithium reserves left on Earth, factored in reprocessing efficiencies for dead lithium batteries, and weighed it against the annual use. There should be enough for another 50 years at current usage rates— so, not quite the rest of your lifetime. But maybe a new reserve will be found, or an
asteroid. You hope. So much of the Earth population has perished in the Climate Famines, the Climate Wars, the flooding, the fires, the storms. There aren’t many people left to fight over the remaining lithium. You feel vaguely sad and guilty about this fact, but you’re fortunate to have enough for your own job, and you remind yourself of that, but it doesn’t make you feel any better. Once you’re done inspecting batteries, you turn to the outside solar array. You check the central monitor screen. Apparently there’s a disconnection on the South Array that has caused some power shutdowns in the D block. You ride the maglev elevator back up a few floors and disembark in the South power room, where you go through your usual inspection and round of tests and find that nothing is wrong on the inner wall. So, the problem has to be outside. You message the protective gear specialists—you’ll need to suit up for a spacewalk. You step into the suit and the specialists fit and assemble it like an intricate puzzle. You connect the oxygen tank, lower the helmet over your head, double-check the tether. You’re ready to go. You step into the antechamber. The door slides shut, the pressure drops, the portal to space slides open, and you’re out. The South Array consists of two spindly wings made of thin dark solar panels. It sparkles like a mirror made of black glass. You catch the glare of the sun reflected on its surface, and maybe a glimpse of your slightly-ridiculous oversized helmeted head. You bounce from panel to panel, checking for wires out of place. You get bored and free float into space, whipping your tether back and forth to send yourself whirling in spirals. You see pinpricks that must be Venus and Mars, and the stars sparkling bright and
dark all around you, and the hazy glow of the Milky Way, whose yellows and purples and foamy delicate clouds you can make out clearly. Below you, Earth looms, blue and brown and yellow with a few patches of green mixed in, shrouded in dull clouds. You see the twinkling of lights in the few remaining cities on the Earth’s surface. You like to float slowly and take in as many details as possible. You know the planet well by now, but you still find something to surprise you. This time, it’s a whirlpool blotched across one of the Southern seas—a hurricane, now a fairly frequent occurrence. Destructive, but so lovely from above. You unwillingly return your attention to the South Array, where you climb up and down the panels until you see a frayed wire, and, further downstream, a busted power converter. You remove your tools from their compartment in their space suit and set on repairs. When you finish, your stomach is growling; you remove your suit, crowd into the maglev with a few hundred other tired, hungry, vaguely bored people, and head to the mess hall for a dinner of wilted hydroponic lettuce and lab grown meat. Jake finds you at your table, sits down next to you, and reminds you about your video game plan tonight. You talk briefly about how work is going. There’s not much new, but there is something comforting about being able to share little news with a friend. You join him in a gameroom, the one with the wall-high micro-LED screens with the best image quality, and lose yourself into friendly oblivion for a few hours. The bright screen excites you, then wears out your eyes. When Jake gets tired, you say goodnight and return to your rooms. You scroll through messages on your tablet from your colony friends before you go
to bed. One has sent you a photo of a rock he found on an asteroid with gold running through it. You think about the gold mines back on Earth and remember the tales of gold-gilded buildings and the treasuries of primeval civilizations, heaped with the stuff. You marvel at the beauty of it, and at how willing humanity was to dig up the entire surface of the Earth, and then, when that failed, to reach for the stars, just to possess that beauty. You rise in the early hours of the morning, while the rest of Atlantis 2000Zeta is still sleeping. You wander down the silent halls into the sensory deprivation and simulation room. It’s popular, but it’s never booked at 2:00 in the morning, and that’s why you come. If you have a secret vice, this is it, though it’s hardly a vice. You strip down to your underwear and lie in the tank. You attach the sensory stimulation cups to your upper arms and legs: clear plastic suctioned to your skin, tethered to waterproofed wires leading back to a machine that sends out synchronized blips of electricity. You want to feel. You strap on your virtual reality goggles. You want to see. The tank closes and you are alone in the dark. You open your eyes inside your goggles and look around. You stand on rough, volcanic gray rock. A few scrub brushes peek out. Before you is a sheet of snow, stretching endlessly to the horizon, flat and empty. The sky is pale blue. You think you see the ocean, far off. Something stirs on the horizon—some kind of animals, a flock of birds, maybe. The stimulation cups produce a draining, biting sensation. You assume this is “cold.” You turn to your left and behind and move forward as far as the simulation has data. Here there’s a patch of powdery snow, more scrub. You come face to face
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with a shaggy brown four-legged thing with spikes growing from its head. From pictures, you know this is an elk. You want to know what an elk feels like, so you reach out, very slowly, and tap its nose. It is slightly wet and sticky. You reach your hands to its horns, but the elk spooks and runs away from you. You want to follow it. You take off at a run, but the animal is too fast. Soon you’re alone in the tundra again. You wander over the almost-real-looking simulated frosty ground for what feels like hours. A flock of birds, migrating south for the winter you assume, passes over your head. When you look down, you can make out a few bugs crawling over the Earth. You wonder if there are still bugs in the now-snowless tundra regions. Life is impossible to entirely snuff out, after all. After what feels like hours, you open the tank and return to dull, sensationless reality. You pass by the observation window as you return to your room and see Earth again. You want to cup it in your hands and hold it, like it is something fragile and precious. People tell you Earth is ugly, Earth is a dump, and nobody would ever want to go there unless it was a resource extraction trip. The people who choose to live there are either crazy, desperately poor, extremely well air-conditioned, or some combination of the above. They tell you those things but you don’t believe them. You know most of the population died either in the famines of the 2050s, or the wars that ensued in the next few decades, or in the raging heat waves. You know that the lucky ones were from countries wealthy enough to afford to send stations like Atlantis 2000-Zeta into orbit and keep them staffed and survivable, or to send colonies to Mars or
asteroids, or engineer climate-controlled compounds back on Earth. Yet instead of pitying or ridiculing the people who make their own way on Earth, you admire them. You want to be tough like them and wonder if you have it in you. You also know that there aren’t any more ice caps, or coral reefs, or rainforests. But you think there has to be something beautiful on the Earth’s surface. You want to feel gravity and dirt. You wonder if there is something else to life than surviving and being entertained. You want to know too badly to stay here. You can’t sleep that night because you’re looking up Earth visit application forms on your tablet. You want to return to an Earth you never belonged to, like you’re going home.