IF THE CATASTROPHE GOES ON
April 20-May 22, 2010
Every dawn a fog of dead leaves, a wintriness of voices past, whispers along the wires of a deserted Midwest, the capital inexplicably deprived of electricity, all computers down, and at night the streets dark as a noble person’s chances on election day, I saw this; and a wind, like a mort darkly, endlessly sounded, I heard it, emanating from the world of dreams and death, place from which originates the impulse to rise from the bed, dress, leave the house or apartment, and face all that will happen as a consequence; the world we are so homesick for, so lost here, psychotic ward without end, halls of a wandering library of illiterates. Behold, on the thirtieth day I saw them, swarms of cockroaches innumerable as stars I saw, like some kind of rapidly replicating virus. I glimpsed them, from that place where unendurable indignation can no longer stab me in the heart, from no more Please Sir may I have some more suffering, or Please Sir may I have some more psych meds, or Yeah but what difference would it make—yabitt yabbit have another bong hit dude, or I heard it was caused by a moon-quake you know or maybe it was the Minoan Multiphasic Personality Inventory gone berserk . . . Are they human, brutal slobs like Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, Cheney and Palin the Wolfslayer, the sacrificial visible and known, and the one hundred or so others whose faces, whose very names no one would recognize . . . And look who’s writing, his words represented by pages and oil-colored oink-colored ink owned by people who picked up the ball from the father and son SS members who owned me back when they were the primary publishers of Hitlerian darkness . . . Yabitt rapt in a vision I saw them, scurrying across the floors of the White House, up and down the Washington Monument, on the thirtieth day of death’s orgasm, I saw them; across the dome of the Capitol Building, even the unfinished addition at Rushmore of the mighty likeness of Crazy Horse, execrescence heresy and obamanation to many, not to mention the unguarded Tomb of theUnknown Blind Eighteen-Year-Old Asshole Sacker of Ancient Cities. I saw cockroaches crawling like magnified lice over the head of the great one, savior of our nation, enthroned in his shadowy hall, and leaving alas their trails of corrosive yellow slime in texture like unto snot all over his great copper face.
What if it goes on for another month? What if it goes on for a year? What if it goes on until the waters around the earth have been murdered by some normal sane hard working family man pink pig faced cocksucker of a businessman? Then will you get mad? Then will you wake up, all you medicated zombies in schools across the land? Then will you rise up in rage and horror and fight back finally? You don’t want to know my opinion on this; you don’t want to know what I think.
And what if I never finish writing this, that’s right, I am never going to stop, not until I fall at last, like one of those great ancient fir trees in the middle of northern nowhere, one which big stupid men with big axes have been working away at for a long time.
It’s weird, for me, to think that this piece started out one minute as a kind of parody of the prophetic/Whitman/Eliot/Ginsberg style and the next—about thirty hours later—had apparently supplied the flawed but momentarily satisfying means to express the little personal silent howl of horror, rage, and frustration I have been stiffling for over a month now. I was then almost immediately silenced by a sense of my own complicity in the current catastrophe, a sense of personal guilt I don’t know if I can ever fathom or express. The seemingly unstoppable nature of this event has reawakened the feelings I had as a teenager in the late sixties and early seventies as the Dow Chemical Corporation poisoned, perhaps for centuries to come, the farmlands of Vietnam, as well as my sense of helpless despair during the days following Chernobyl. My wife Elizabeth was involved for a while, here in Boston, in the selection and exhibition of art works by children born with various forms of cancer clearly related to the nuclear disaster, while they were being treated by physicians in the area; I was present one evening when some of those children filed, strangely, into the ballroom of some glittery hotel after their long flight to this country, and my memory of that moment is one I am still far from fully confronting. But the absolute absence of self-pity in these children is linked in my mind somehow with the pictures of birds affected by our Alaskan oil disaster. I am already losing the mental thread here, I simply cannot think straight in the face of these occurrences. I can say that a friend of mine recently referred to the current catastophe as merely a “once-in-a-lifetime event” and that the moment I read those words of his he ceased to be my friend. He can go to hell. And so can I.
–Franz Wright, 5/24/10
Franz Wright received the Pultizer Prize in Poetry for Walking To Martha’s Vineyard in 2004. His most recent collections are 7PROSE (Marrick Press, 2010) and Wheeling Motel (Knopf, 2009). His large collection of lyrical prose pieces, Forecast, will be published by Knopf in the fall of 2011. He lives in Waltham, Massachuesetts with his wife, writer and translator Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright and their extremely large and friendly part-wildcat, Robert.