I have an obsession with post-apocalyptic literature. There’s something oddly reassuring about reading far-fetched accounts of the future. From short stories in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles to Stephen King’s The Stand to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I gravitate towards stories of life-after-life-as-we-know-it.
I read Lindsay Hunter’s phenomenal collection Don’t Kiss Me over the holiday break and found “After” to be especially captivating. I re-read it at least a dozen times. “After” is brilliantly constructed as one long sentence and begins:
After the apocalypse, which stopped being a shock to the system after you saw them mallwalkers being vaporized over by the P.F. Chang’s that you used to eat at with your momma at every birthday, idiots pumping they elbows like the sun wasn’t an oozing boil, one of them a hawk-faced sculpture of bone before the rapture, so the pile of ash was an improvement, and why you was so angry at these ladies you didn’t quite know, but it just seemed retarded, caring about your physical fitness while nearby four crows picked at a halved lady’s crotch, but anyway…
I also read Edward Mullany’s Figures for an Apocalypse, a creepy collection of poems and micro-fiction with a hallucinatory take on an apocalypse wrought by some combination of human nature and the natural world. I’ve never read anything like it. Some of the poems are so sparse, I couldn’t figure out how they carried such emotional weight:
Somewhere, a man played the violin
while standing naked in a hotel room
he had emptied of everything not
bolted to the floor.
THE CITIES THAT REMAINED
There were crimes, but no sirens.
THE BOILING OF THE LIARS
First, it was dark. Then the sun began to come up. Then a crowd began to gather. Then a group of naked men and women were led into the courtyard.
Today I started reading Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah, which has terrifying images of life in a world laid waste. A woman returns to her village and describes what she has seen on her journey home:
There was one town in particular that was eerier than the others—there were rows of human skeletons on either side of the path leading into town. When the breeze came about, as it did frequently, it shook the skulls, causing them to rotate slowly, so it seemed they were all turning their hollow eye sockets at her as she hastened past them.
This novel may be fiction but this is no imagined land; it’s based on the aftermath of the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, sometimes called “Operation No Living Thing.” Truly an apocalypse in our own time.
On the last day of 2013, a friend and I met with a tarot card reader. My only knowledge of psychic readings came from late night television in the early 90’s so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I sat down across from the pile of cards, I was relieved to find the Reader had a presence that was comforting and, well, normal.
We weren’t long into the reading before she remarked on my hyper-present state; the cards would only reveal things I already knew about myself. When she pressed me on my view of the future, I started to cry. I suddenly realized I have never seen my future self.
From her deck, I picked three cards to show me the gifts of my future. The first card I turned over was entirely black with the word “void.” I winced, the acidic burn of anxiety blooming across my chest. “Don’t worry,” the Reader said to me. “It’s not the unknown, but the vastness. It doesn’t mean nothing. It means everything.”
Anxiety is a beast and is intricately linked to the future, my future. I added Scott Stossel’s new book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, And the Search for Peace of Mind to my list after reading his article in The Atlantic. It was also reassuring to read of other people’s experiences with anxiety.
Being an insomniac is hard work—the hours are long
and jagged. I reach for the boss’s neck, and his throat,
dissolves in my grip. I clutch the pillow like a ledge,
afraid no one will catch me if I let go and plummet
into zzz’s? My mind buzzes with airplanes
that carry only runways. A rooster paces
along the roof. A spider does back flips
on her silk trampoline, I rise, shower, shave
so I’ll wake with a five o’clock shadow. My face
will function like a timepiece. The minutes drift by
like giddy school kids with strips of masking tape
over their lips. Soon the streets will fill with people
remembering themselves. Soon my eyes will sink
like silver dollars into my face, and I’ll sleep
like a herbivore on a bed of hamburger meat, like a zit
on the chin of a beauty queen. Sleep straight through
the alarm clock’s strange town. Sleep like a nun’s
clitoris, like a bird bonked on the head with a golf ball.
Oh sleep, why do you refuse to let me in
till I’ve given up pounding on your door?
The same friend who invited me to the tarot reading sent me this quote from Rachel Naomi Remen’s My Grandfather’s Blessings:
We have not been raised to cultivate a sense of Mystery. We may even see the unknown as an insult to our competence, a personal failing. Seen this way, the unknown becomes a challenge to action. But Mystery does not require action; Mystery requires our attention. Mystery requires that we listen and become open. When we meet with the unknown in this way, we can be touched by a wisdom that can transform our lives.
Now I’m thinking of my to-read list as an extension of my future self. And I’m excited to dive into more poetry with Alex Lemon’s The Wish Book, Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest and Kamilah Aisha Moon’s She Has A Name (hat tip to LA Review of Books). I also came across the recently reissued Wanting in Arabic, which uses “aggressive nostalgia” to explore a multiracial, transgendered perspective.
And check out this effort to bring poems to life: Motionpoems.
The story collection Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge by Peter Orner is sitting on the passenger seat in my car, waiting for a moment to kill time in the carpool line. My dad told me about The Days of Abandonment, written by one of Italy’s most famous (and truly unknown) writers. And I can’t wait to read The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists, which Santa left for me under the tree. Until next time, Dear Reader. Until next time!