Snowball’s chance

October’s theme for qarrtsiluni is Change and Continuity, which, as some readers may have noticed, I’ve been riffing on here as well. I submitted the following series of linked prose pieces, but on reflection, my fellow editors and I felt that it didn’t really hang together all that well; the third threatens to overwhelm the first two, and really deserves to stand alone.

This editing is a tough job, and we worry about the extent to which blogging has made us lax in the standards we apply to ourselves and each other. It’s a peculiar, god-like dilemma: how to be appropriately merciless and compassionate at the same time…

I stood watching traffic and thought: a winch, a windlass. Some iron drum on a medieval instrument of torture, allowing pain to be administered in increments no thicker than an eyelash. That kind of wheel.

The day before, a friend of mine had been impossible to console: he had received two pieces of terrible news that morning, he said, and the one he was willing to talk about involved a young teenage girl in South Africa – the daughter of a woman he used to work with – raped in her own room by three masked men. “You know, there’s this persistent myth that AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin. Preferably dry sex.”

I wondered about the other piece of news, but said nothing. We were playing cards, one of those games where the jokers can steal any identity and the player who finishes with the lowest score wins. I was winning, and whistled under my breath.

In my last dream before waking, I am trying to find a poetry reading in a restaurant basement. Raw sewage is oozing through the cracks in the floor and under the stairs, green, incredibly foul. The manager shrugs: the health inspector won’t come around for another two months, and anyway, the city floats on a river of shit and stale urine. I find the exit and take deep gulps of the alley’s gentrified air. Here’s some fancy brickwork, an old brass hitching post. Every passing hand rests briefly on its cool metal skin.

The news isn’t good, almost by definition. Polar icecaps are melting; the Amazon is drying out. All across Siberia, methane gas percolates through the warming soil, suddenly unencumbered by a frozen ceiling. Millions of years of freeze-dried shit and corpses have a sudden date with the anaerobic rulers of the planet, whose patience and whose appetite are equally infinite.

The wheel has turned too far, it seems, and now the ligaments are beginning to snap. In the long-term forecast, there’s an 80 percent chance of the extinction of most multi-cellular life forms on earth. Our ancestors were cold and lonely and desperately afraid of their own extinction, and read in the heavens a promise of unlimited semen. Now we will be plenty warm, I bet. And life will continue without us, in whatever form; those who believe in biogenesis can take comfort in the thought of earth’s own bacteria seeding the stars.

I remember once as a kid, toward the end of January, putting three or four snowballs in the freezer for some reason. I found them six months later while trying to make room for blueberries, and it took me a few moments to recognize what they were. The snow had turned to lumps of ice, gray and lifeless: such a fragile crop, impossible to preserve.

How will we describe the snow to our great-grandchildren? It drifted down from the night sky like flour, we’ll say, or sometimes like a rain of flowers the color of light: little vajras, wheels with six spokes. It gave cover to mice and to the ugliest of wounds. It made us dream of oneness. Wasn’t it cold, they’ll ask, and we’ll say no, you could burrow into it as into a down comforter. Sometimes a ruffed grouse would burst from the snow right in front of you in the middle of a still morning. It changed by the day and by the hour, and when the sun came out you could see the shadow of the sky itself: blue, blue.

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