Wanting to believe in the butterfly effect
I collect a box of groceries from cold storage,
take it to the drop-in centre, break open bread rolls
fill them with salad, cheese, mayonnaise; leave goofy notes
about extra cucumber for beauty treatment, or vegans,
in the hope that giving migrates invisible currents
to distant continents, pollinates oil barons’ and despots’ hearts —
They feel their hearts!
Yet our children watch polar ice-caps collapse on TV;
learn to say sixth mass extinction with furious fluency,
choose to walk to school all weathers, forego meat and dairy food,
their eyes the soot of burnt-out stumps.
Other days, they kneel with us, postures half hopeful, half bereft,
to press electric-white seedling roots, skinny wires
into the rich, dark sockets of a field’s edge, to try to light
cool lamps of leaves, to banish the creeping dread
that even planting trees might be as impotent
as fingers kissed to magpies, green forbidden on first-time brides.
Our young sons help us squash the sluggy pearls of grass grubs
that would eat the seedlings in their new-born cribs
but as the news reports that fresh forest fires blacken
the planet’s treasure map, one boy asks, in a toneless blank,
‘Why do people even have children?’
The other hugs me, his body’s slim shuttle
shaken with the gravity of the mind’s strain.
‘You shouldn’t have had us, Mum.’
But we had you because we loved the world.
Stern young faces gavel-blunt, their twinned silences
sentence me as yet another militant of double-speak:
In order to show our love for the planet,
we wanted children who could grieve for it.
Emma Neale is the author of six novels and six collections of poetry, the most recent of which is To the Occupant (OUP, 2019). She works as a freelance editor in Otepoti/Dunedin, where she also occasionally teaches creative writing. This year she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award, a prize given biennially for a distinguished contribution to New Zealand poetry. She is the current editor of Landfall.
Exquisitely painful and beautiful, Emma. A stunning and important poem. Thank you for writing it.
Thank you so much for your comment, Nicola. The poem is one I’ve dithered over for a long time. And the questions don’t stop…
Reblogged this on Emma Neale and commented:
Today my husband and eldest son are braving the weather to clear gorse; they’re out there in the winter wild, clearing another stanza for this poem, maybe. My children keep me from sliding into apathy, though parenthood often also means feeling an anxiety that borders on a similar paralysis, I think. But the two young men I am raising are often brave and independent critical thinkers. So sometimes I think family life is like leapfrog: your turn to be courageous and leap, my turn to kneel down and feel afraid. And then we swap…
Love this poem!
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thanks for taking the time to read it, Tina.