I eat strawberries in the sun with Marie Antoinette. Once, she picnicked in Paris with her chosen ladies and was the delight of all who spied her seated on the grass. I grow ephemeral rubies bedded on golden straw. Four dollars would buy the same boxed in transparent perfection at the grocery store. Marie does not discriminate — winter berries are a luxury, summer berries are a pleasure. She wonders why I always scourge the little whip of my mind on such tender glories when I know I will bank my shopping cart with their fleshy hearts, the only fruit my American child, my little dauphine of the warming world, will take from me, quartered to reveal the icy white beneath their scarlet cheeks.
At the end: mud and piss on the floor, a man calling the names of the extinguished, the endangered species list growing shorter as whole families are removed. Marie Antoinette knew her own death was coming, the only logical conclusion of such darkness and filth. My Protestant forebears thought this whole green earth a dunghill, I remind her. She says You don’t know shit until you have lain in it. In the yard, a monarch full out of season lands upon a zinnia. I planted the flower that misled him. It should be decaying on the compost heap, he winging his way to Mexico. With age a butterfly’s wings tatter, the filaments unclasping like fabric ripped from overuse. Marie wore the same dress two months in the darkness, forgot what the color white was meant to be, missed an escape plot hidden in a flower, and she tells me I need to stop dwelling on my errors.
The Cake Eaters
Even the revolutionaries are cake eaters now – I have a book called Rage Baking that suggests while the world destroys me with its news I should bake a cake. Angel cake, devil cake. We hold some old prejudices in our sugar. When Marie Antoinette called (she never said it) for the bread-starving to eat cake, slavery had been outlawed in France 500 years. Except it hadn’t. French colonies stole men from their homes and sucked their lives like sugar cane. Most men taken to the sugar plantations lived fewer than ten years. Sweetness grew on blood. Sugar’s horror should have been enough to dull our tongues. It wasn’t. How far from cane is the confectioner’s sugar we whip to frosting, refine, make fine, make white as women’s powder. Appetite shifts like a dragon on a pile of bones. Economics turns every desire to necessity. Our ravening tastebuds just the ledger column of demand. Destruction another way of marking the burning fields of cane, brutal heritage, the claimed forests: supply. We wrack our bodies with sweetness, breathe the smoked air of the lighted fields, study patches of dead water downstream from the fields. There is much damage in cake, but I have never denied myself its pleasures.
At the house, where we all are
I spend Sunday afternoon sorting the children’s clothing from the parents’ –ours– we’ve worn the same banalities over and over through the monotonous seasons of this homebound year they grow thin from unnoticed use, bear the stains of forgotten crafts my hands feel over them halfway between beggar and queen the way I take softness and discard it I know I get to be safe here and do not know what I owe the unsafe. I have done little to deserve my place, my placid chores and what is it to listen at the television’s broad mouth history happens far from me, beyond even where highways cleave the territories of wild things menacing them as they seek shelter, mates, water in my own garden little rain has fallen but water comes rushing through the pipes a friend’s daughter scowls in the mirror, waiting fierce for the water wars her mother says will come, the years when what we take for plenty dries away she doesn’t know yet the dignity of those who will come holding their lives tightly as she holds her own, how every protector is something’s taker, each of us wanting all we have and more
Would You Rather
My daughter loves to ask me impossible questions: Would you rather live in a house accessible only by ladders or in a house one foot underwater? Would you rather never be able to hug me again or go everywhere with me riding on your back? Going to the library, she asks me about ways to die. Would you rather die by being shot into the sun or swallowed by a giant space worm? Last night, we watched the new Dune. In it, a groundskeeper pours water at the roots of a palm tree. The thirst of each palm would water fifty men for a day. Should we remove them? asks Paul. No, says the groundskeeper, These are sacred. Scientists already record temperatures that seem impossible, nights holding the heat like a bag over the world's head and soon the earth so hot in some places that leaving home for a few hours will kill a man as though he had been thrown to the desert. My own green world may be underwater by then, a disaster of opposites. Imagine the laconic digestion of Dune’s sand worm, the absoluteness of its dark bowels, a prison of slime and rot with no last rites. I tell my daughter I choose flying into the sun because I imagine death would be faster, but we might already be in the worm’s slow belly, the last geologic months of denial, panic, resistance.
“May the odds be ever in your favor”
My daughter wants to dress as Katniss Everdeen for Halloween. We make her costume from black leggings and spray paint, Katniss in the second Hunger Games, a symbol but not yet a hero in her own mind, the way people have taken her up and used her for something she isn’t ready yet to be. I’ve done the same thing with my child, held her up to the day as a purpose and a promise of improvement. And then what? We don’t make the world better for children, because we are too busy bettering it for our own. My friend Kathryn sits on the tail of her minivan and tells me about the wealth she’s building for her sons, impenetrable. I know she’s afraid, we all are. She is building a cistern on the roof of her house, she’s a scientist, she’s telling me the rains of the future won’t fall as they do now. We’ll live perched between flood and flame. Even this week, the water went bad somewhere in the lines and we gave up drinking from the taps, though the end of the world hasn’t even begun, at least in how we sense it. Late autumn still jeweling every green and ruby leaf, my daughter’s hair a shining honey I braid to mimic Katniss. I’m the one who brought her here, to fix this world I can’t stop destroying for her sake, as though what I hope most is not that everything would stop descending into chaos, but that my own sweet one will be among the saved, among the safe, watching from a distance, and what would my life have been if I did not ensure it would be so.
By Elizabeth Silvia