“Calm in Their Diminishing”?

A Scene from the Series “Life After People”

This poem from the late Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) presupposes the earth in transition from human domination. It appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of The New Yorker. I wonder how much this kind of thinking is related to a feeling that our noble experiment has failed under a storm of red MAGA hats.

Peaceful Transition

The wind comes down from the northwest, cold in September,
and flips over the neighbor’s trash receptacles.

The Halifax newspaper says that mansions are falling into the sea.
Storms are rising in the dark Pacific.

Pollution has infiltrated the food chain down to the jellyfish level.
The book I am reading is called “The End of the Ascent of Man.”

It says the time of human dominion is done,
but I am hoping it will be a peaceful transition.

It is one thing to think of buffalo on Divisadero Street,
of the Golden gate Bridge overgrown in a tangle of vine.

It is another to open the door of your own house to the waves.
I am hoping the humans will be calm in their diminishing.

That the forests grow back with patience, not rage;
I am hoping the flocks of geese increase their number only gradually.

Let it be like an amnesia we don’t even notice;
the hills forgetting the name of our kind. Then the sky.

Let the fish rearrange their green governments
as the rain spatters slant on their roof.

It is important that we expire.
It is a kind of work we have begun in order to complete.

Today out of he north the cold wind comes down,
and I go out to see

the neighbor’s trash bins have toppled in the drive
I see the unpicked grapes have turned to small sweet raisins on their vine.

I see the wren has found a way to make its little nest
inside the cactus thorn.


Celebrating the End of the World

The 2nd Volume of Jack Vance’s “The Dying Earth” Series

This was my reading choice to commemorate the upcoming end of the world on Friday, December 21, 2012, the so-called end of the Mayan calendar according to conspiracy theorists and gullible fools. What better choice than one of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth series of stories, in this case the second volume of the series, The Eyes of the Overworld.

According to Wikipedia, “The stories of the Dying Earth series are set in the distant future, at a point when the sun is almost exhausted and magic has reasserted itself as a dominant force. The Moon has disappeared and the Sun is in danger of burning out at any time, often flickering as if about to go out, before shining again. The various civilizations of Earth have collapsed for the most part into decadence and its inhabitants overcome with a fatalistic outlook. The Earth is mostly barren and cold, and has become infested with various predatory monsters (possibly created by a magician in a former age).”

Cugel the Clever is our hero, who finds himself in deep trouble when he is trapped by Iucounu the Laughing Magician attempting to burgle his manse. He is sent to find a certain magical eye cusp in a distant land to complete a matched set. To ensure Cugel’s cooperation, Iucounu uses magic to wrap a creature named Firx around his liver to prod it with sharp barbs whenever its bearer appears dilatory about returning to Azenomei and Iucounu.

The Eyes of the Overworld is a record of Cugel’s travels to return to Azenomei and use his cleverness to avoid being felled by magical spells and to use the people he encounters along the way.

Vance goes out of his way to imagine interesting peoples and situations:

The spell known as the Inside Out and Over was of derivation so remote as to be forgotten. An unknown Cloud-rider of the Twenty-first Eon had construed an archaic version; the half-legendary Basile Blackweb had refined its contours, a process continued by Veronifer the Bland, who had added a reinforcing resonance. Archemand of Glaere had annotated fourteen of its provulsions; Phandaal had listed it in the ‘A,’ as ‘Perfected,’ category of his monumental catalogue. In this fashion it had reached the workbook of Zaraides the Sage, where Cugel, immured under a hillock, had found it and spoken it forth.

While no one can truly admire Cugel’s selfish, immoral ways unless to his extreme social detriment, the book is an incredibly humorous introduction to the end of days and worthy of being read.
The volumes in the series are The Dying Earth (1950), The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), Cugel’s Saga (1983), and Rhialto the Marvelous (1984). If you like fantasy, this is highly recommended.