Jeannine Hall Gailey
Epilogue – Or, A Story for After
—from Field Guide to the End of the World published by Moon City Press
I want to tell you a story about how we survived the end of the world. Crouched around a dying fire, I illustrate with shadow puppets the old, beat-up van, the velocity of water and sky, the unnamable odds against us. What really sells it? The way the ending goes on forever, moon ebbing closer to the mysterious dark, its craggy face calling out, the skies scattered with falling stars. The way objects are nearer than they appear. You next to me, and I remind you – here is where we used to be, here is where we are. I draw a line in the dirt with a fork and draw a picture – a house made of a square and a triangle, a single daisy in the yard, and two smiling stick figures. This is what we dreamed of, the day we awaited has arrived. There are no more shotguns or dusty trails lined with diseased corpses. A ship arrives on top of a mountain, heralded by doves; an airplane lands on another planet, seatmates dazed by the lack of gravity. We might teach the dragons to dance, learn the alchemy of soil again, rebuild libraries with tales of fantastic voyage. All I need right now is you, the simple weight of your hand, the warmth of your breath, and this last cup of coffee to tell me – we are miraculous.
Episode 1: Origin Story
In which mutant girl lives by a lake of radioactive ooze
in a forest of trees, leaves tipped with contaminated metals
and her four robot collies, and a robot cat that always has the same kittens.
Our heroine lies awake on dusty sheets after her little brother has dozed off
and dreams of far-away planets, dinosaurs, possible futures.
She was born with invisible mutant cells, her embryo refusing
conventional form, though look: ten fingers, ten toes.
She keeps her mutations a secret.
Episode II: Leaving Town
Even after she’s left the atomic city, she carries morsels of it
everywhere – between her toes, between strands of hair, between molecules.
Dust to dust. Where do we store poisons?
The heart? Brain, fingernails bone?
She brings with her a bit of a southern accent,
a love of thick forest canopies, of praying mantis and fox.
She studies stacks of books, frowning under the heft of phrases:
atomic weight, ecological statistical patterns, the migration paths
of butterflies. She understands circuits intuitively,
calculus, half-lives: the legacies of her scientist father.
Episode III: Aftermath
So, they’ve smashed the atoms, wrecked up the joint, poisoned
the water and the butterflies, the blueberries and sunflowers.
They’re trying to breed a mutant that withstands the toxic trials:
malformed offspring, extra limbs, shortened skeletons.
She understands already. She brought a notebook to write
the history of these poisons, from her childhood: the nightmares,
the mushroom clouds, the unstable orphans and radon daughters.
I failed to die (as they said I might) this year.
I watched the icons of my teen years drop one by one though,
magical in their makeup and costumes, Bowie and Prince
and Princess Leia, all glitter and smartass. I watched the election
with tears in my eyes while others cheered.
I spent a lot of time in hospitals, not writing, waiting
for the other shoe to drop. I spent too much time hand-wringing.
I spent time planting lavender that I wasn’t sure
I would live to see bloom. I bought a blue-eyed kitten.
I took pictures of trees in the wind.
Failures were many – lost voices, lost crowds, wandering
in the wrong directions. We’ve lost our sense of smell.
All the signs are there. We’ve barely touched our eggs.
Our memories aren’t what they used to be. Our hair
not as bright. Our hands shake when they should be steady.
America lost a bit of its shine. Britons yelled at us
in the street to go back home. But where did we
come from? Wasn’t it on your boats?
I’ve forgotten now, English, Irish, African, French,
Creole, Spanish, Italian, ancient Greek: so many languages
scratched into the dust, into rusty iron pages.
They’re breaking down. Soon we will all speak emoji,
happy or sad faces, angry tongues or devil horns.
We failed to launch as a nation. I failed to organize
my closet, my office is a mess of papers I can’t leave
to anyone. A painting on my wall of a fox, its eyes glowing,
fixed on the grey horizon. It haunts me, with its wall of poppies.
Where did my nerve break down? What particular cell betrayed me?
Are your families fracturing, your synapses leaking?
Look the future – perhaps that glow you see isn’t fire, but sunrise.
About Jeannine Hall Gailey
Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist's Daughter, and winner of the Moon City Book Prize, Field Guide to the End of the World. Her web site is www.webbish6.com and her twitter handle is @webbish6.