I am lurching over uneven earth. It’s so dry near the beach at Golden Gardens Park that there are only sinews of straw and lumps that were once grass scattered over bare ground. My body creases then collapses onto a bench outdoors as if some violence had been done to it. But I’m just tired and too warm. I watch water fold over again and again in waves in Puget Sound in Seattle, a city known for rain that has had none for months. There is some evidence of wildlife: a small, jagged partial racoon body among plants; a long, thin, grey tail squirming behind a rock; and a rind of fur left near a bush. In Montana, where I once lived, I saw a wolf running with a ribcage in its mouth near some abandoned, graffitied buildings in the middle of nowhere. When I followed its path, I found an unknown animal’s tooth, but it didn’t tell me which way to go to find the wolf or how to avoid climate change.
What about the future? Yesterday was left inside me somewhere between my chest and shoulder bones. I must unlearn what I can no longer become. How can I make everything go back to the way it used to be? Or can I? I used to argue with wildlife about transitions by watching a bear seem to grow younger as she ran toward her cub or a deer leaping excitedly toward something too far away for me to see. Somewhere water leaked invasively. Back then,
minutes percolated. Houses became rooms filled with small, friendly animals. But too many bones were discovered around riverbanks and so much debris gathered everywhere that humankind didn’t know what to do with it. In the old days, things were attached to one another and nothing seemed foreign. We had a choice of winds, sounds, insects, birds, trees, seas. We didn’t want to come up empty, not realizing all we had. Although it wasn’t perfect, of course. Today can’t be everything to everyone. Now the moon grimaces at us from the creaking sky as
we rocket toward it without a purpose. Below, we unwind like ropes, knotting again and then falling apart. If rocks are watching us, strange creatures that we are, they would find the world too loud and then too quiet.
Today is yesterday with its hands over its eyes.
I crush spiders, using a paper towel, a magazine, or a shoe, inside of my house. But I don’t kill them outside, which is where they mostly belong, although this is really just a matter of space. Sometimes, if I can, I simply move them outside, which might kill a house spider. And who am I? What or who am I becoming?
I open my mouth or write lengthy explanatory notes called books. I sit in my backyard, except during inclement weather, watching spiders, with their tiny, pebble-like bodies, float toward the sky along their shimmering, intricate, labyrinthine webs. Is their web a house, an appliance, or a way of communicating? I study a damaged, sagging cobweb, which resembles a scowling, one-eyed face drifting between a chair and an umbrella. The web is made of a protein silk and its purpose is to catch prey, mostly insects. The vibrations let the spider know when it
has caught something and the spider rises and parachutes quickly down. It wraps the kill in silk, to be digested later. Spiders are now growing larger and having more offspring because of the new weather.
Notes from curious spiders:
Look the other way and enter.
My hair is growing thicker so I can listen, smell, feel more.
I shiver with a web and then use it like a coat.
Your passing skirt and neck still seem attractive.
My eight eyes rove to better see you.
Stones are the opposite of tensile cobwebs.
Smiling spiders cannot weep.
Wrap rocks until they learn how to fly.
Ladder, ladder, ladder.
The uninvited, oblivious guest is the best.
Life is a thin constellation between heavier objects.
The changing climate inordinately harms sick and dying birds. They are draped sadly over boulders or lying on grass. Exhausted and approachable finches with salmonellosis from bird feeders, juvenile Caspian terns that jumped from a roof to avoid the recent terrible summer heat, and falcons, eagles, hawks, barn owls, merlins, and swallows have died or been injured. Too many songbirds and seabirds are suffering from toxins, parasites, or disease. This has changed their nesting and migration patterns. Will they adapt?
Birds are able to fly, unlike the more stationary spiders. Humankind has already learned to destroy itself through historical massacres, wars, and genocides. Bosnia, China, the Soviet Union, Rwanda, Pakistan, Armenia, Native Americans, the Holocaust, and Cambodia are a few of the countries and events that have had their share of man-made ethnic, racial, religious, and political battles. Soon enough we will damage the planet beyond repair. We have migrated like the birds, and we have conquered and spread destruction because of our want. We have learned
to fly without feathers for good and bad causes. We have polluted, leaving behind noxious eggs that are hidden and left to hatch from water, earth, and sky into something unknown. We hope to grow our own wings. Done with this world maybe we can enter the next one.
Although this stone leans against air, it remains where it is.
A pamphlet about The Future, found in an old church, says that there will be no more unnamed suffering. It could be called Softening Appointments, In the Perpetual Waiting Room, Inconsistent Moods, Insufficient Diagnoses, Sore Scenery. We will need weightless representations of our bodies in a landscape that, hopefully, will remember nothing of what’s been done to it and by whom.
Are we becoming the ghosts we were meant to be?
What if we built houses from all the stones collected in America? What would happen to all the notes that were tucked beneath them? Would they disintegrate? Flutter away? Or would those structures eventually become Wailing Walls, where wishes try to reside between the stones? As we watch the United States move away from itself and become another place, I sort through the various shapes of injured clouds while asking the sky to tell me where it is wounded. What happens to the accidental wildlife? Do animals and humans spill out of houses that can no longer protect them and slip into streets and scenery? What kind of future could be scribbled on those notes?
I retreat from the spiders that have overrun my home. I move my bird-watching binoculars into a closet. It’s complicated living among Aves and Arachnids and all the others. It’s an animal choreography. No one knows what the future might bring, with its violent shifts of bodies and their small gears inside, and with the world changing outside. There are still only theories.
Tell me how to live so I can live like that beneath the nearest rock.
The Future as seen by birds:
Spontaneous feathers erupt along human arms.
Embryos singing to one another.
Leaves shrink and the sky stains darkly.
What hovers also sways, making bodies obsolete.
Wings, like tiny elves, flap everywhere.
Seeds press themselves against glass and brick.
Soar away now from the tenements of bones.
Wind gnaws everything to frilliness.
The puzzle of a bird revives, to the best of its memory.
Air glides around a flying machine.
A storm arrives but stones hardly notice.
In Missoula, Montana, my first husband focused on his future as he moved us from rental to rental, then house to house, and finally one state to another. He believed something better would appear soon. If success didn’t occur, he became knotted, frustrated, and unhappy. This American expectation was dwindling. Sometimes he screamed obscenities at door-to-door missionaries or banged a bathroom door open so hard he left a doorknob-shaped hole in the nearby wall or drove his car manically. Once he yelled at me and my cat rose up on a sofa and scolded him to protect me. Later, my first husband died from a heart attack, having relied too much on his future.
Now I’m preening for a party. I see a bright blue Steller’s Jay, foraging, bold, unafraid, and hopping around my windowsill. They live in the moment, playing, stealing, and commenting on the present. I zip up my sage-colored shirt, attach square malachite earrings, and choose a ring to impress someone tonight whom I don’t know yet.
This world grows sadder as stones point me in different directions.
I remain clumsy with the language of animals. My cat and I fragment our demands, together and apart, combining past and present in order to create our future. I swoop into this scenario imprecisely because everything is fastened in both visible and invisible ways. A spider’s web, half-seen in certain light, resembles an array of planets in the solar system. A bird imitates a meteor hurtling through space toward earth.
I’m content to be aging at a different rate than the universe. My husband, who is younger, helps me understand myself. Someday I want to study a meadow held in shadow, explain my feelings to air, listen to ocean waves that sound like heart murmurs. Write, read, dance. Can I survive without those things? Soon enough I will recall everything but myself, maybe a wreckage of starlings along a field filling with clouds and sunlight, or an abundant rain covering dark soil that begins roiling with new life, roots and worms. In the end I will be replaced by someone else’s children or new ghosts or instructions on how to maintain a stubborn sky or maybe something like a television.
Rocks, covering all those notes, are grateful for the distraction of clouds.
Advice to future stones:
Be more permeable. Allow the world inside.
Feel the incremental changes you are capable of.
Persist, even if you break something else.
Name all the words for stationary, then think of yourself as unencumbered.
Glisten, but don’t smirk.
Hold one future above you and one below you.
Celebrate your endurance by lingering.
Be many and one.
Stop dreaming about piles of bald men.
Be careful about what clings to you.
Be neighborly, sleep under the stars.
This world too is becoming an argument. Today I disagree with my tomatoes, lettuce, and basil as to how long the earth pinwheels around the sun. I apologize to sunlight because I want to hold onto it longer. Clouds suture the sky’s blue abrasions and bruises. I see a bird the same way I see words fly inside my head. A spider traverses my body, corroborating my helplessness to keep the world outside myself.
A stranger in our alley calls to me, which rearranges my thoughts. I make room inside myself for something like talking. We converse generally about the odd weather and the animals we have recently seen and the ones that are missing. He is familiar and not familiar. I can’t remember this strange man’s face or name, but my pretending to know him feels as if it might go on forever. Until he frowns and all the contradictions of our relationship become apparent. We don’t fight but he retreats from my fence, as if he could become entangled there. Suddenly he understands that we might not know one another, that I could be a replacement for someone else. We recede from each other. Nothing is mended. He pockets a pebble that could be one kind of a note for the future. We can only carry so much. He sheds some of his clothes at the end of my street as if they mean nothing. I still don’t recognize him but feel as if I should. He retrieves the pebble and stares at it in his palm.
The pebble might be asking the man: Is this world past saving?
Laurie Blauner is the author of eight books of poetry, five novels, and a forthcoming first nonfiction book titled I Was One of My Memories which won PANK’s 2020 Nonfiction Book Contest. Her latest novel is Out of Which Came Nothing from Spuyten Duyvil.