The right path. The phrase echoes in our heads
as we travel west, away from the crack in the earth.
There is no way around it. Some say it connects
Tierra del Fuego to the North Pole and cuts deep
down to the core—a wound that lets the heat escape
each minute of the day. When all of the Américas
became a desert, dividing coast from coast, those
caught in the middle either sunk into the crevice
or sunk into despair. The right path. That’s what
Those Who Came Before tried to sell us before hell
rose from the bowels of the planet to burn the air
in every lung. When the animals began to flee
and the birds headed east, we should have guessed
the doom had come upon us then. But the right path
was not to panic but to study these changes, discuss
policy, hold town meetings—negotiate. Catastrophe
was just another balloon to deflate. By the time
the ground beneath our feet began to shake, it
were already too late to save our cities, which had
turned to liquid we couldn’t drink. Next came thirst.
What comedy to witness humans think they’re
in control of anything. The new collectives with
the old were just as tired and useless as the past.
Their lifetime of mistake and misdirection was what
had killed us. Why repeat the leadership? Why
allow the yesterday to roll its ancient wheels
into the present? Oh preachers of pretense, we
silenced you. Oh teachers of nonsense, we erased
you. The future is ours, you all said, and the future
arrived, bleak and black, but with much less room
to move around. A future without windows or doors,
and one ugly hole in the ground that offers no escape.
What future is this? We asked. And Those Who Came
Before simply shrugged their shoulders and shook
their heads. When the gas discharged from the opening
we smelled the answer—sour odor of crimes against
the land and the centuries of death that had been buried
there. Out flew centuries of damage and buried bodies
to hover above us like magpies shrieking: The crack
in the earth, it is us. The crack in the earth, it is ours.
The pond of bones begins to rattle. Even Mother’s
throne collapses, her body disassembles. The ground
turns to quicksand as it trembles and swallows
every socket, every thorn, every pebble. In a single
gulp the bed beneath the Smaller Ones swirls down
a funnel. The earth has groaned like this before.
We know what to expect though it doesn’t help
us guess which plate will lift its crust and which
will crumble. The dust is blinding. It separates us
as we scramble. Unknowingly, some of us run
right into the opening and plummet. We hear
no screams. We hear no cough though we see us
spitting ink—the gas unleashed has cooked our
lungs. Slowly the collective gathers in the shadow
of the clouds. We must guide our shattered spirits
to a shelter before the mists release their acid.
In our ears the ringing doesn’t stop. It will take
a week and some of us will get the sickness—that
rabid urge to kill and tear apart what’s whole.
We fear no second crack. We fear another purge.
We wrap our arms around our bodies, swaying back
and forth—we’re motherless cradles, candle stubs
whose flames have melted down to callus. We are
silent but for the piercing shrill inside our heads.
Cocooned in misery, we might have missed this
spark of light entirely, but there it is, lifting heavy
chins from chests: a firefly—an actual firefly,
beautiful bug from our fantasy game, a reality
here among the detritus of the world, rising from
its dregs, a flicker, a flash, a wink of vital breath.
We try to catch the little star but it eludes our grasp.
We let it be, it comes to rest upon a knee. Dare we
ask if this means the planet now spins in opposite
direction? Does it begin to mend its ruptures, unclog
its river paths? The firefly fades but its ghost remains.
No more dreams, no more questions. Sleep, tiny hope,
we do not know what threats or sorrows we’ll
encounter next. Tomorrow is a story for those who
make it through the present chronicle—uncertainty,
scarcity—we the ephemeral have inherited this earth.
There’s a man who sits on the shore every morning,
staring at the sea. And the sea stares back, defiantly.
It won’t release its secrets. I’ll give you an answer
if I take what you’re offering me, says the sea.
When the man begins to weep, the sea yawns
with indifference. Tears are abundant here. As are
sinking ships and broken hearts and moons that drop
like shards of shattered windows. Prayers crumble,
brittle against the Caribbean wind. There’s nothing
in your skies or on your land I haven’t swallowed.
Or spat right back. The man, defeated, rises, drags
his shadow—a shadow? Or a piece of cloth, a flag?
The sea keeps reaching for a closer look. The figure
blurs into the landscape and takes his story with him.
Waves crash against the rocks as if that sudden exit
hadn’t left the ocean waters floundering in wonder.
What was that? The question turns to driftwood
and knocks against the mass of land, thereafter
unanswered because the man never came back.
And so the sea sifts through its rubble once again
and again and again and again and again in order to
complete this puzzle—narratives left unfinished toss
inside memory forever. That’s why the sea comes
to the shore each morning looking for a man.
There’s a man who sits on a bench
waiting for a train, though the trains
arrive and depart and the man remains
seated, the heaviness of resignation on
his face. As evening falls the light flickers
awake in the waiting room and a moth
begins to flutter in and out of sight
until it rests finally on the white bulb
above his head. All things come to calm
this way—even the trains. The cycles
of grinding metal stretch out into yawns—
each iron wheel a flower folding its petals in.
Night concludes its hymn. The man rises but
hesitates to leave this station of his cross.