from ‘mass extinction’
September 18, 2020
Sep 18, 2020
Nothing that interesting has come out
from inside of us. Nothing worth hurting anything else for.
How life became an endless, terrible competition.
How you say you are a friend to women and girls,
for example, but leave them to deal with it. How you say you could be a friend to an animal, or a grove
of communicating aspens, but you leave them to deal with it.
How life became an endless, terrible competition.
What should we do with the alphas. What should we do
with all the winners. Turn our backs on them, and my naiveté humiliates me still.
Or the application of time
to something that we, ourselves, have lost. A vagueness,
and it’s murmuring or gathering around us.
That cloud of hummingbirds looks like a nebula of hummingbirds in an undefined space—
but it isn’t yet even a single hummingbird. It isn’t a hummingbird.
I can’t believe that a hummingbird desires human admiration or friendship or love,
so if an actual hummingbird appears,
let’s not care that much, either way. Let’s leave the hummingbirds to deal with it,
and my disdain humiliates me still.
How to subdue the genome that makes us feel dissatisfied, like we need to go get something
or kill something.
Like we need to discover something. Or climb to the top of our field. Like we need to make someone do something we want them to do.
Or, the ways in which we stop something better from happening
because it will probably make us look mediocre.
Let’s be honest, when we say ally or friend or understand, we really mean we’ll be a second in your duel,
but mostly, we’ll watch you struggle for your life at a shorter distance than most.
We mean we’ll watch you struggle for your life, from close up. We mean we’ll stare at you,
while you’re destroyed, and say “that is life.”
Someone we could have and love, then later
we could eat it, or build our homes out of it,
or just ruin it because it’s what our genome suggests to us.
Fetal . . . almost anything I pull into this poem about the fetus fits. The idea of the fetus can hold
the plastic bottle of water. The disinfectant wipes. The polarized sunglasses.
Antarctica. The falter. The future of life. The uninhabitable Earth. The rising. The phrase
“don’t even think about it” and the phrase “this changes everything.”
The idea of the fetus can contain even that stack of reading on my desk.
My hands are holding my head. Because I am very weary today. I am so hungry this morning.
I happen to be alive. Slow violence,
and the environmentalism of the poor. If we could, with our human genomes,
be a friend to anything nonhuman, ripping open our business shirts
to reveal a bright red “S” beneath.
DNA is the old artificial intelligence, and it’s trying to learn through our livingness. But humans
are only one of its many experiments. A hummingbird has a genome. An aspen grove has a genome.
Why are you confused about women or girls. What do you want from them.
What do you think is yours.
Is that your genome talking, or is it your “love of life.” What, really,
is the difference between what we think is living, and what we think is not living.
I explained The Selfish Gene, a book I’d read in college, to my thirteen-year-old son today.
All human behavior is a servant of our DNA, which wants simply to continue, I told him.
Even my love for you is simply a story that serves the continuity of my genome.
Even beauty, I said.
Even the most beautiful thing I could ever imagine. Sitting here, talking with me, right now.
What do we want from animals. What do we want from watersheds. What do we want from ecosystems. What do we think is the limit of what is ours,
and the limit of what is “life” or “our life.”
Do you happen to wield the lethal blade of momentum.
Do you happen to worship the upward-turning curve. Do you happen to hold some kind of rein
in your hand, and do you use it to do something self-protective and mediocre.
The associative human mind,
replaced with the bureaucratic or the mathematic mind—what number would you need to hear
to be a friend to an ecosystem.
What number do you need to hear. How many wins do you need.
What kind of prestige, or influence, will you hold out for, before you are a friend to a mountain.
What do you need, in order to stop distinguishing between what you think is living
and what you think is not living.
Think about all of your own systems. Think about how you hold them up over the world,
then drop them, crashing, down on it.
That mountain is covered in snow. It is so beautiful. Is there a fetus inside of it.
Very few things desire human love. How exactly should we love
or be a friend to that mountain.
We open a mine, and we take what we want out of it, and my sarcasm cuts me still.
As we were leaving the climate strike our five-year-old lost sight of us. We hadn’t lost sight of him, but it took me a moment to realize what had happened, and what was happening to him.
We’d been walking with a large group of others for a few minutes. We didn’t know them. Archie thought that a man in this group, about the size and shape of his father, wearing something his father might wear, holding a sign like his father was, was his father. Archie walked alongside this other man for a few seconds, beyond where we had stopped to cross the street. Just as we were about to call for him he looked up, realized the person he’d been walking with for—he didn’t know how long—wasn’t his father. He spun a circle to look for us, didn’t see us, and crumpled to the ground. The man stopped to see if our son was okay. He saw us waving and pointed us out to Archie, but Archie couldn’t even lift his head. He was obliterated with fear and grief.
He repeated, over and over: I can’t bear it. He said: I had a thought that I lost you, and I can’t bear it.
For hours afterward, and even the next day, Archie would break out into weeping. Hard screaming-weeping, yelling out that he can’t bear it. He can’t bear it. Could we help him get the thought out of his mind?
Will better schools fix it. Will thinking better fix it.
Will adoration of “life” or “living” fix it.
Maybe we’re exhausted by our own rise to the top of the food chain. As an apex predator,
we’re tired, and it’s difficult to care about all the unloved things. Or,
is it that we’re surrounded by apex predators, ourselves. And we all have to find a way not to be tricked.
Though it might be nice to imagine there was once a time
when we lived in harmony with nature, we never really did. In the New York Times today
there is an article about a couple who spent 57 days looking for their lost dog while on a trip to Montana. They quit their jobs, bought night-vision goggles, and mobilized a small community for two months to help them find their dog.
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September 18, 2020