Hail the terrariums of our production
Whenever I do go out, my daughter brings the outside in: blades of grass, rounded rocks to paint, tiny cherries, dried leaves. She probably knows there’s no telling when we’ll venture out for a walk again, so she’s saving some for later. My younger child, born in a pandemic, spends hours looking out of any windows she can find. I’d assumed she’d be overjoyed to be outside, but when I put her down during our walk, it was too unfamiliar—the turf and soft playground so unlike floorboards and rug—she only wanted to enjoy this new world from the vantage of my arms. In this way, they too, are urban creatures like me.
In Laurie D. Graham’s brilliant essay, “The Work of Poetry and the Problem with Books,” which moved me to begin writing this, Graham speaks about how a “rootedness that doesn’t supplant” can help us live in elegant opposition to the “[r]avenous systems of profit and extraction” that we find ourselves within. Graham describes how connection to, and care for, the lands we live on can help us cultivate a more respectful and sustainable symbiosis that honors the contract we have with the biosphere.
I find, alas, that connectedness to the land is something I have never had the luxury of. I have been a tool in a series of colonial and neocolonial projects. I was grown to work the land. My parents jostled to situate me in the more prized fields. Renters for most of their lives, we moved too frequently for me to gain any particular affinity for any one place. I’ve worked in so many cities, and rented so many places in these cities, while I do the work demanded of me, that it’s all a blur to me.
Having a strong definition of home, one tied to place, must be nice. Beautiful (and stolen) British Columbia has an abundance of trails and creeks and rivers and mountains and forests. I hear some people have gone to see some of them. Sounds mildly interesting. What is inside the places I’ve lived in (which I am privileged to have and have had) means little; what is outside of them, even less so. Having a mood disorder, I have little interest in expending the energy it takes to venture outside for pleasure or unless necessary. At any rate, the pursuit of pleasure is an alien concept to me. My life has been for work. And now I work from home, trapped. I faintly wish to be free. I cannot muster the will to do anything differently.
Bree Newsome posted a tweet recently that has helped me form this thought better:
I have been a resource being extracted in mostly-windowless offices for most of my careers. Then I would usually go home where my blackout curtains stayed drawn, to recover before doing it again.
My second book is being published on March 22 by M&S in a cohort that includes Laurie D. Graham, Phoebe Wang, and Madhur Anand. I therefore identified strongly with Graham’s description of the pall that descends after completing a manuscript. What should I do now? (I should ask you to pre-order it.) Soon we will receive our advance copies, and then contractual copies of our books. Soon, we will begin to promote these books. Being an accidental poet, I have found that the labour of publishing is itself an extractive enterprise. Critics will savor my cries for help. I will hope people buy my despair and confusion incarnate. I will hope they enjoy the groanings I have transcribed in somewhat socially-acceptable forms. The books themselves will be printed on paper that trees were destroyed for. While I wait to see what people think of the book, I will return to my desk at night, with the curtains drawn, to write some more things I hope are good.
I worry about the solipsism of my poetry. I want to be able to write a good pastoral poem, for instance. But even the cosmos, oceans, forests, and eroding rock I evoke in my poems are from other books, and screens. The night lights pollute the sky in our complex. What are stars? I am too tired when my kids have gone to bed to see what the moon looks like. I go out for groceries on Sunday before running several loads of laundry. I know I should take the kids out to see more of the world than we have inside, but where will we go? And anyway, there’s a plague outside. So I inevitably write about the internal life, the unfortunate past, the suspicion that something is wrong with the way we are all living, and the wish that someone would do something about it. That person will, of course, not be me. I’ll be too busy laying myself flat for the olive press of work.
I left my failed country behind. I could not become an immigrant in America. I was brought to this country as a supposedly skilled immigrant to prove my worth in 5-year increments. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I know my place: I’m a human resource, being efficiently extracted. I am utterly exhausted, yet I cannot stop. When each compass point is a furnace, one never takes rest for granted again. The dedication of my next book is thus “for those who can never be still.”
Humans in their urban coops retreat into their enclosures for production; coyotes and bison are retaking the streets, adapting to our pre-built world. I hope we are all as renewable as we seem to believe we are. We may meet in the vale beyond our ruin, and find rest, but for now, we produce.