Introduction · Hannah Larrabee

This climate change issue of Nixes Mate Review begins with Paula Nancarrow’s bold proclamation: “Let me set the record straight: In the New World / no mythical beast was ever tamed by a Virgin.” 

We must avoid fable, myth, the easier routes to understanding through anthropomorphism. Faced with the crisis of extinction, there is no time for such storytelling.

In Kristi Maxwell’s poems “Goral” and “Serow,” she reflects on extinction through the removal of language – more specifically, the letters g, o, r, a, l, are not used in the poem and the same constriction is used in “Serow.” Maxwell creates around loss in order to express loss. Brilliant. 

M Jaime Zuckerman’s beautiful non-fiction piece, “Ablation,” aligns the individual experience of breast reduction surgery with the depletion of polar ice. 

Many symbols began to emerge from the work we received: the hummingbird, the firebird, the horrifying interplay of fire, flood, and draught. 

We are in conversation with the strange and haunting winds. 

The wildfires that result in the “skittish sleep of standing horses.”

The extinction of species. 

The haunting disappearance of birdsong. 

We are in conversation with thoughts we might even entertain on the worst of days, like “a bright purifying asteroid” arriving as immediate catastrophe.

Many pieces in this issue embody a feeling that the massive wheel of climate disruption has begun to turn and we cannot stop it. “The realization that / faster and faster / this all ends,” as Karen Friedland so eloquently writes.

And although innovation is essential, we have not been saved, as a species, by technology. On the contrary, we often contend with the imitations and opiate complacency of technology as in Michael Quattrone’s line “we race to build ourselves things mimicking the heart” and the inescapable gravity of doom-scrolling in Stephen Scott Whitaker’s poem.

Several poems were submitted in the after style, so in a sense this is a collaboration. Wendy Drexler writes an incredible obituary for the human species after the style of Victoria Chang, Crystal Karlberg’s poem “Note to Self” pays homage to Mary Szybist, and Brooke Dwojak Lehmann’s “Lot’s Nameless Wife Takes Inventory” mirrors the brilliance of C.T. Salazar’s “Noah’s Nameless Wife Takes Inventory.”

In thinking about this issue, there has evolved, for me, a tacit understanding that what we are really examining is time—the constriction of time alongside the steady removal of species from the timeline of evolution. Think about the rare, extraordinary circumstances that gave rise not just to life on Earth but to its vivid abundance, such rich biodiversity. It’s hard not to feel joy mixed up with uncertainty and mourning. As Robin Wall Kimmerer expresses so eloquently:

Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.

This issue is one such small gift. I’m so grateful for the chance to work with Nixes Mate and for the incredible creative work we received.

 

Hannah Larrabee, guest editor

Issue 21/22 · Climate Change · page 1

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Hummingbirds and Unicorns · Paula Nancarrow

Do you have anything with hummingbirds on it? Or unicorns? I like unicorns too.
– Tourist overheard in an Arizona jewelry shop.

I.

Let me set the record straight: In the New World
no mythical beast was ever tamed by a Virgin.
The Aztec god who must drink blood or

his body weight in nectar
two to three times each day
is not a power drawn to purity

though his gorget scatters light like soap bubbles.
Nor have I ever seen a unicorn among
my bleeding hearts, my salvia or bee balm.

A hummingbird can’t walk. But why would a god want to?
To pump the heart of a warrior, to beat his saber wings –
what better transport? Knees are for those who must bow.

II.

Mating is overrated, declares Huitzilopochtli.
A four-second tryst on a perch. But courtship!
that keeps incarnation interesting. Stabbing the throat

of a competitor with the beak still sugared
gets her attention each time. Forward, backwards, sideways,
upside down –oh, the pyrotechnics! And next the dive

at sixty-five feet per second, stopping inches
before her face, then ascending. Who’s the best pilot
you ever saw? If she’s impressed, she will perch:

Huitzilopochtli will descend and mount,
then move on. How do you think
you keep those bleeding hearts bleeding?

III.

In fact, she was glad to see him go.
At the metabolic rate of a hummingbird
Another god around the house

is just more competition for food. Now
all the material world is at her feet
which are good for gathering and shaping

the grasses, animal fur, cotton fiber, small twigs
and binding them with the glue of spider webs
into a warm and sturdy nest. She lays

a clutch of eggs the size of coffee beans. Defends
and warms them, feeds them when they hatch.
Behold the Living God. No Virgin she. No Unicorn in sight.

In Which No Creature Dies · Paula Nancarrow
I.

We need to have a difficult conversation
about the removal of twenty-three species

from the Endangered Species List
because they are presumed a Lost Cause:

eleven birds, eight from Hawaii;
this little pig-toed mussel,

and seven more; two fish, a bat,
and a plant with no common name,

also Hawaiian. Hawaii, the Aloha state,
the extinction capital of the world.

II.

Instead we have a cartoon conversation
because democracy dies in darkness

as does biodiversity. Because news is
a projection of light and headlines

we speak of Woody Woodpecker.
We mourn the passing of the Lord

God Bird, as if confusing the two
were the right blend of awe and nostalgia

to rally the troops. Instead we ignite
the wrath of conservative pundits.

III.

LOOK AT THOSE BLEEDING HEART LIBERALS
WHO DON’T REALIZE THAT CLIMATE

HAS ALWAYS CHANGED; THAT FASHIONS
IN LADIES HATS AND THE CLEARING

OF OLD-GROWTH FORESTS, NOT THE INTERNAL
COMBUSTION ENGINE, CAUSED THE EXTINCTION

OF THE IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER. WHICH
WOODY IS NOT. HE IS MOST CERTAINLY

A PILEATED, DESPITE THE MISIDENTIFICATION
IN EPISODE 133 (1964), “DUMB AS A FOX.”

IV.

No one brings up the real origin
story. An easy conversation between

two people, laughing and in love
in which no creature dies.

The honeymoon at a lake cabin.
A noisy acorn woodpecker

who bored holes in the cabin’s roof.
The rainstorm that soaked the bed.

Walter Lantz wants to shoot the bird.
His new wife suggests that he draw it instead.

End of the Holocene · Nancy Woo
I’d rather be alive and messy,
a wild guava
in the Zaferia District
fuming fuzzy lawn snow.

I’m moving through a cloud,
writing from inside the trenches,
using war as an analogy because
that’s the paradigm I’ve inherited,
assembling disaster kits
and hoarding fresh water.

I think about peat bogs constantly,
methane bubbling in their mouths.

Rapid intensification
toward tipping points.

For every degree Celsius,
10% more lightning strikes.

Emotions are electrical impulses
dismantling me on the daily.

I’m struck by refugees
seeking the cool of night,
decreasing yields,
whitewashed Andes,
bleached coral reefs,
sunny day flooding
over low-lying islands.

Arctic ice packs plummeting.
Walruses careening off cliffs.
Literally, locust swarms
and new, exciting diseases.

We need a radical shift in guard.
We need to talk about consumption’s
blind assault on the living world
for a red Solo cup and a hamburger.

The cow’s eye twitches.
It’s hailing fish.
Poetry is the language of chaos
in the order of letters. I’m trying
to slow down enough to say:

The sky is not an open sewer.

By 2030— By 2050— By 2070—

Glimpsing Earth from space
shows dried up lakes.

Rain evaporates
before it hits the ground.

Goral · Kristi Maxwell
Serow · Kristi Maxwell
Note To Self · Crystal Karlberg
(after “Here, There Are Blueberries” by Mary Szybist)

Here there are strawberries;
I am not quite myself.

When I was sure I was going to drown
I didn’t know what I’d miss. Nothing

smolders like an ember
buried in the sand.

This temple has lost all
sense of logic though

most days are unarguably good.
The border into despair

is gateless, unattended. Imagine.
God appears when our feet are on fire.

That burning is a sensation
you never forget. Things I did to survive

have been scattered like petals:
honeysuckle, silver buckle, shoe

horn, barn storm. The windmill
is barely visible in this fog.

My mother soaked the punch
out of onions with vinegar and ice.

There are wonders here
I never realized.

[Oh colossus of capitalism,] · Michelle Acker
Oh colossus of capitalism, / oh rotting train graveyard, familiar shapes / pry open inside you. Old music, dim, / hums and trickles in the ear, the same way // we carry blood and shed water. Vultures / start, shunted by some invisible cue. / They keep their own ancient agriculture. / Their wings whistle overhead like flutes. You,

oh skeleton, your corrosion and cracks
and crumbling rubber have transfigured you.
Fat bees drift past in gentle suspension.

Here lie no tracks – only the bones of tracks
laid by moonlight, by peeper frogs, by dew,
and by grackles nesting in the engine.

[A smattering of buds anticipates] · Michelle Acker
A smattering of buds anticipates / like a dog with a torn toy in its mouth / a hand neither open nor closed, an ache / as subtle as soft breezes from the south, // as absent snowdrops. The wrapped-arm white tongues / of bloodroot sleeping under distant ice. / The mounding clumps of daisies, petals flung / and flecked along the wet, crumbling roadside.

The chickadee, the nuthatch, and the wren,
whose beaks and bones have no more weight than smog,
who tease the odious jays; those birds who flit

from branch to branch, like falling figs – hide when
they die. And what can she make of the song
of a dogwood with no robins in it?

Issue 21/22 · Climate Change · page 2

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Lot’s Wife Reflects on the Anthropocene · Brooke Dwojak Lehmann
The ivory wool scarf that wrapped her longing
in steaming tea before early light, and gypsy
moths drawn to flame will soon be gone.
And so will, hand-painted roses on porcelain,
blushed and gold-flecked edges of ancestors
fractured on plates that fed a harvest of friends.
So will, candles in the chamomile bath poured
while she sank in salt, and his thumb strummed
numbly into the guitar as she cried, I cannot leave
even though she saw angel imprints on the walls,
their voices thrummed in her eardrum at night,
bullfrogs in a pond refusing to believe that tomorrow
when the smoke chokes ash and orange, blue is all
she can take with her, blue pillared firmer than salt.
Lot’s Nameless Wife Takes Inventory · Brooke Dwojak Lehmann
Looking for Sagittarius · Renuka Raghavan
I. Now? Well, nowadays there have been more mice than people in my life. I heard on the news that mice have increased in population. They seek the indoors where food is plentiful and where they can reproduce repeatedly. As flat mates go, they haven’t been too bad. The one I usually see in the kitchen has all but claimed the wall near the range. It’s fine with me, I hardly cook. Just as long as he stays away from the fridge and microwave. The gray one that haunts the hallway outside my bathroom is a little bastard. He loves scaring me at night when I get up to pee. II. The Delhi air is so polluted that the once temporary orange haze that hovered over us from dawn until dusk, is now a thick plume of red, mirroring the clay dirt, blotting out nearly all the stars. Outside the city, the night is so dark, it’s easy to forget which way you’re going. I wish I lived out there. That one night of the big storm, awakened by sporadic flashes of binding light, I stood out on the veranda, face upturned to the sky, grinning. Vishnu was probably taking screenshots of Earth, to show Brahma and Shiva later, so they can all share a laugh over the pathetic frailty of our momentary existence. III. Some nights I wake up because I run out of air to breathe. The hollow apartment echoes like an empty jukebox and aches like my Nani’s fading memory. I’ve tried sleeping pills, it only makes things exponentially worse. IV. I dyed my hair purple and gave myself a pixie cut with rusted scissors, and I think I look fabulous, but no one else seemed to like it as much as I did. Most nights, I go to the rooftop to look for Sagittarius in the sky. I think if I find him, maybe I’d also find Baba, but I haven’t found either of them yet. Sometimes I can hear the grandpa in the adjacent building singing Hindi love songs from the 60s to his dead wife’s picture. I think her favorites were Asha Bhosle and Mohammed Rafi. V. It’s almost monsoon season, it seems to come earlier and last longer with each passing year. I can taste the rain in the air as early as May. The last of the mango crop is finally ripe enough to eat. The fruit vendor sold out his cart in minutes, everyone clamoring for something good, something delicious. Maybe that’s why when I cut into one, a mouse scurried away with a quarter of my mango. I bet he needed something sweet, too.
Some People Kept Using Their Fireplaces, Even On Non-Burn Days · Kimberly Kralowec
The towels I stacked in the closet would never
again unfold. On the final night, I slept
the skittish sleep of standing horses, recalling
the foreign news of men who met in ruined

buildings to plot torture. The cat woke up hissing
from her dream. That morning, on my way to work,
a Lyft stopped four inches short of the thigh
of the man in front of me in the crosswalk. He saw

and heard no Lyft at all. The city was built
for people like him. Three blocks away, a frightened
ocean, with its king tides, stood ready to decide
which shores it would crush into beaches.

I went home. I turned on the lights. I stacked
the towels neatly in the upper closet shelf.
Dusk became trapped in the cat’s thick fur.
I used water to dry with and air to wash.

From Ryōkan · Mark Simpson
To make a fire
you must think of flame consuming itself
and dry limbs, wind’s gift.
I Imagine My Dead Brother Battling the Woodward Fire in Point Reyes · Tom Daley
There you are, posing
with your shovel, its lip
smarting from the eucalyptus steam

rising from the barb and the edge
of the fire. Rotating
their blackouts through your heart,

all the morose rumors
stir their indolent lightning
into the dry patchwork

of brush and coffee stains.
You are leaning into the marine
restorations, the absent fog

gathering itself for the onslaught
of cool. On average, your
smirk is fiercer than these conflagrations,

and off the road to Olema,
the sourdough smoke rings
have gnarled the blaze

into what sweats the sooty tears
from the cinders
of your nagging threat.

Patience, frantic hummingbird · Kyle Potvin
These last days have strewn me.
Rain must come.

I dam the brook, spatter the calm
reservoir on a summer night.

Time is long between seed and flower.
My tongue thirsts for nectar and bloom.

I ache for bright Rocket Larkspur, Wild
Cosmos, Catchfly.

I plunge a finger into the soil.
Test its readiness.

School Of Praise · Robert Vivian
In the woods after wading in a river the late and lyrical summer day and catching a few bright and trembling fish in my wet hands I say suddenly from somewhere deep inside shuddering in every bone and sinew A phrase with some juice before you reach the car, and every step and footfall over the trails of moss and gnarled roots and the greenness that overcomes wheeling out of the bright nowhere so much there are no words to say or sing it though I am a failed pilgrim who still believes in the power of a sigh, A phrase with some juice before you reach the car, and what play and feast this is or maybe chemical urgency thrumming in my veins in the great pellucid mercy of not knowing, which is the only country where I wish to live, deep alacrity of earth and electromagnetic force field tugging at my heels and every wise cicada whose hiddenness is proof of its sagacity, may I cry peacefully with you, for we write with our whole aching bodies and every breath and molecule, even our earlobes and eyelashes that bat away with shyness and embarrassment in the revelation of sudden personal and universal beauty, A phrase with some juice before you reach the car, and what are we made for after all but to praise all that is, myself a two-legged beggar studying in this school of praise whose classroom is always outside in the bright teeming air and beauty, beauty, beauty, let me repeat it all the time, beauty, beauty, beauty, and the trail before me strewn with heavenly stones whose very hardness teaches us how to rock and how to poem and say a few water words and A phrase with some juice before you reach the car and before you return once more to the human byways and highways of earthly traffic and the buzz of unruly gossip, may the green, dripping beauty of these woods and water penetrate every fiber of our beings even unto cricket song and bird cry I cannot identify and the grooved calligraphy of bark and slow-moving sap within, sometimes I swear, I cry, I shout, I whisper, there is no difference between outside and within, there is no other, there is no separation, Jupiter orbits in my heart also as do all the death who teach us how to listen, walk with me as I drag my weary and delirious body across some arbitrary but necessary finish line, A phrase with some juice before you reach the car, before you take off your stinky waders and rub your sunburned shoulder with calamine, before you dare to sing or cry or pray, before you die to fame and lust, before you eke out your earthly existence as a fisher of words and trout and any creature who swims, maybe your own heart most of all who rises only for gossamer and the wind-blown light and Tina’s laughter circa the happy moment at home after some bread and olives and a glass of wine and all the glittering material in the basement waiting to be tied into something sharp and beautiful, pleading almost to be bitten by the flashing mouth of a giant and most righteous fish, lunker of my dreams.

Issue 21/22 · Climate Change · page 3

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DEVICE · Michael Quattrone
we
race to build ourselves things
mimicking the heart, and have
improved over the ages those
designs, so subtle counterfeits
convince us now we’re almost
gods who live to screen our-
selves from birth, the bloody
mother who gives everything
in streams we cannot buy or
sell, doom-scroll of cells, app-
roximation of what living is
this turning into objects what
we love, the body’s wishes for
death, breath, touch, or signal
from above.
After a Night of Doom Scrolling · Stephen Scott Whitaker
Microplastic-cene, me, and mine. What worry
does to a mind, microplastic-cene. Dawn’s crows
fly from pine mind to oak tree, its great brain thinned,
and gathering to it, in the wind, all its worries
before casting them out. Microplastic-cene and me
and mine. Salt assumes all green near its flood washes. Near
its wastes, all green goes gray, so all trees too, assumed
by microplastics. In all things, plastic and water. How
will children kind and kin grow up with this binding spell
generations urged for wealth into wealth into wealth?
A body knows. A body knows when it’s not in health.
Microplastic-cene; it’s collapsing now, time, earth,
mining all there was, all there was in between, it’s collapsing,
today, this morning, every morning since, and too,
a growing, a queering of green. Me and mind and my
kind, mine, mine, mine, what worry does to a mind.
Lake Powell, Arizona · Katie Kemple
and 101 degrees,
in a kayak with my
disgruntled teen,

paddling on my own,
while their arms
stay crossed in the rear.

We pass white marks
where water
used to be: this reservoir,

50% empty.
Desiccated mussels
line the rocks.

My muscles throb
against the wake
of yachts.

My teen begged me
not to bring them here,
wanted to stay

in our tent
playing video games
on their phone.

We enter a side
channel and the rowing
gets easier.

I pull in the oars,
chide my teen to take
a swim with me:

heat on my side,
they relent, plunge into
the green-blue abyss.

What would be
tap water evaporates
off our backs,

like the quick smile on
my teen’s face,
dripping wet.

The canyon plays
a shock of gold light
on straited sandstone,

a sharp contrast
to the blue light
of devices.

We’ve had a year
of walls and Zoom,
alone in our rooms.

How does a parent
make up for that?
I guide the kayak back.

They say the first child’s
the toughest
to birth. Here I am,

pushing hard
once more,
my breath audible.

I steer us toward
a slipway stranded
in the sky –

Ablation · M Jaime Zuckerman
There’s a scene in the opening episode of Our Planet in which David Attenborough narrates a calving iceberg. It is so awesome, so hard to grasp, that the only way to understand it is through simile: ice collapses into itself like a skyscraper demolished by dynamite; ice vapor rises up like an atomic cloud; the ice rocks like a grieving body. Sea birds wing away from the calving and they’re small specks, the only living things to put the destruction into perspective. This iceberg is, in fact, larger than a skyscraper, and over the course of twenty minutes 75 million tons of ice break into the sea. Frame upon frame of this beautiful destruction, while Attenborough lets us understand both the enormity of what we’re witnessing through pixels on a screen – this glacier rises 100 meters over the sea and continues 400 meters beneath the surface – and the enormity of what we’ve collectively done to cause this – glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were just ten years ago. The elegiac violins begin before the closing credits.

*

The word ablation has two meanings – the surgical removal of body tissue and the erosion of glaciers or icebergs. The first meaning used to be the most common, but the latter is starting to surpass it as the arctic melts and icebergs calve at an alarming rate. While mammoplasty reductions like mine are not considered ablation (ablation is, specifically, the removal of abnormal tissue, like a cancer), they share the same idea of cutting away something of the physical self. That physical loss is there in the planet’s ice, which drops large slices of itself into the rising ocean. And although icebergs calving into a roiling ocean is incredibly sudden in terms of geological time, it is still considered part of the erosive processes of ablation that that include wind erosion, melt, and evaporation. The word ablation holds a fascinating idea: a connection between the planet and human anatomy, both bodies, both having pieces of themselves cleaved away and lost forever.

*

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror looking at my new body. I still had sticky grey outlines from the ECG patches on my pectorals. I wore a hideous front clasping sports bra I’d bought the week before, and soft white gauze peaked out where cleavage would normally be. I carefully unhooked the bra to reveal bandages crusted with brown blood, yellow ooze, other colors – purple, greenish, black – colors I did not think could come from my body. I felt dizzy. I called my mom.

*

By the time I realized I had breasts, in seventh grade, they were already developed, maybe already a C, and bounced preposterously beneath by overall shorts. I was still skinny and angular, disproportionate. It took an astounding obliviousness not to notice them growing right in front of me, a weight I carried everywhere. These outsized breasts belonged on a woman, not to me. I didn’t ask for this body, and I didn’t want to grow up. I still wanted to play tag at recess, and when the kids in my own grade grew out of it, I kept running with the kids in the grade below. I would have kept on running and never acknowledged the breasts, if it weren’t for my classmates who wouldn’t let me keep ignoring them. The girls were cruel, teasing, and humiliating. The boys stared, making me understand, for the first time, what it is to be a sexual object. The bullying was constant, brutal, and the more I tried to disappear, the more my breasts refused to allow it.

They kept growing and I dreamed of escaping that small, mean town. In my first month of college, I made fast friends with a dreamy blond named Carrie. One day she was looking for me asked someone if they’d seen her friend, Jaime: “You know, the girl with the big boobs.” She could have had no idea how it stung to have that be my identifying characteristic. When I looked in the dorm’s bathroom mirror, I saw freckles, messy curls – me. I dissociated myself from everything below my shoulders. I knew they were there – I had to go to great pains to find bras that would keep my breasts contained. I just couldn’t connect myself to the body I existed in.

As I continued to womanhood, I found confidence in my brain – I was a good student, a budding (if naïve) feminist, a writer. I did not, however, find confidence in my skin. Everywhere I went, men stared, catcalled, asked me stupid questions. Their reactions bothered me for the obvious reasons, but they also just didn’t make sense. My body, my breasts were not beautiful.

Breasts are supposed to be beautiful. No, they are beautiful. Breasts are life source, milk of the earth, metaphor for nature. In one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies, Friar Lawrence equates Earth with breasts: “And from her womb children of divers kind/ we sucking on her natural bosom find,/ many for many virtues excellent, none but for some, and yet all different.” (2.3.11-14) The miracle of nature is its abundant diversity, all springing from the same life source. I valued the concept of breasts. I admired the movement and shape of them on women I saw walking down the street. I loved their soft hilliness painted on canvas and sculpted in marble in the Met.

But my breasts caused me pain. Their weight hung on me. Sweat pooled under them on hot days. Most clothing is not designed to accommodate big breasts. Any bra that held them was restrictive and ugly and left welts in my sides. Even then, they’d spill over the top. They were unruly, refused to keep their place, stay down, be still. Lifting one in my hand, it shifted like a water balloon and spilled over. The skin, mapped by silvery stretch marks, seemed too thin to hold it all.

It took a photograph to finally see what I’d refused to look at for years. A friend’s father took the photo. In it, I’m full of joy, in a sailboat for the first time, the sun shining on my smile and shining right through the fabric of my shirt to illuminate breasts straining against a bikini. I was ashamed my friend’s father had seen my body, however inadvertently. I was resolute in my decision to be done with the pain and the shame, even as those I’d confided in – my mother, my boyfriend – expressed reservations about altering my body permanently.

*

I arrived at the hospital for my breast reduction surgery early, when the daylight was still soft and the birds riotous in their private bird dramas. I was ushered through the motions of preparing for surgery. A train of people in scrubs introduced themselves to me: an anesthesiologist, two nurses, PAs.

Fear crept in slowly as I changed into the surgical gown, thinking of the many strangers who’d worn the same gown for different reasons before me and waited, like me, naked and cold under the thin blue cloth. I remember Dr. Morris greeting me briefly, looking over a list of names, presumably of other women whose breasts he would cut open and reshape that day. He drew dashed lines over my breasts in Crayola marker. I peeked down and looked at those breasts for the last time – the silver stretchmarks that ran like rivers down a mountain, their familiar weight and sag. Dr. Morris’s marker drawings reminded me of the lines my mother drew on fabric before cutting out the pieces and assembling them into her quilts. She drew dashes, too, before hand embroidering every single square. But even my mother used a tracer – these markings seemed far too impressionistic. And then there would be the cutting. The fear crept in so slowly, I didn’t notice it until it had become full terror, and I was being wheeled on a gurney into the operating room.

My last memory is of country music on a small radio in the operating room. I pictured what I knew was about to happen: Dr. Morris would slice the thin skin of my breasts with a scalpel, my body lying there for all the world like a corpse, surrounded by an audience of nurses and PAs. The skin of my breasts would be peeled back, the yellow globules of fatty tissue excised. While country music played. I hate country music.

“You listen to country while you work on me?” The anesthesiologist silenced me with a mask.

“Count down from ten.” I got to seven. I woke upright in a chair in different room, swaddled in blankets and bandages. Waking to the slow understanding that three hours of my life – three hours in which my body was opened, altered, and stitched shut – was an unsettling feeling. A blip in the recording of my memory.

*

Standing in front of my bathroom mirror 48-hours later, I perched the phone with my mom’s distant voice on the sink and unraveled the bandages around and around my body. My breasts were purpled and swollen like two bruised melons held preposterously against me – they didn’t sag or sink with gravity as they usually did. I was surprised to see the stitches were actually like the stitches my mom made over each square of her quilts, my skin puckered like cotton. Washing with soap and water, my fingers found the courage to graze the incisions, which felt like tiny mountain ridges. I realized a freckle that had been on the side of my left breast had migrated to sit right next to the nipple.

My mother’s voice is coarse after decades of smoking Tareytons – it is either a growl or a purr, either angry and threatening, or a whisper, soothing and familiar. I don’t always know which mother I’m going to get. When I decided to get the breast reduction, my mother did not understand. She was angry that I’d cut into the perfect body she’d formed and watched grow. For one thing, I did not inherit the enormous breasts from her, and she could not understand what a burden they felt like. She was idealistically opposed to bras and never wore one, not even when she was breast feeding. (My mother chooses which elements of societal convention to rebel against and which to adhere to religiously – she had vague feminist reasons for refusing bras, but I suspect it’s because they’re uncomfortable). My mother also, famously, refuses to visit doctors and I can name all the times she’s been willing to do so in my lifetime: she left the hospital the day she delivered me; she got bells palsy before treating her lyme disease; she had an almost completely rotten tooth before getting a root canal. When I called her from the bathroom, she did not approve of the surgery and definitely did not want to picture my disfigured breasts. But she answered the phone and she said the right thing for once.

Neither of us remember what was said that when I unwrapped my bandages. All I remember is that she was uncharacteristically calming, the reassuring mother I needed so badly in that moment. All my mom remembers is that she could tell from my voice that I was shaken. There is something deeply comforting in being known so completely by another person.

There is one other time I remember when my mother surprised me with knowing me so intimately. In middle school, when I was made incredibly lonely by the other kids’ cruelty, my mother and I spent hours each day in the neighbor’s greenhouse, growing seedlings and talking about the small dramas of my day. When we walked into the greenhouse from the iced winter outside, the air was warm and fecund. Geraniums grew like trees. We planted seeds in trays and when they started to send up feelers, they were crowded, like a miniature forest, so we carefully pull out the littlest ones from around the strong ones. The whisps of green started to take on the shape of the leaves that were unique to that plant, so then we used a salt spoon to transfer them to small cylinders we’d made out of newspaper. On a day when I used the salt spoon to airlift the cobweby new roots, my mother commented, “You always breath heavily when you’re concentrating.” It’s such a small thing to know, something only seeable with careful study. Sometimes I notice now, my breath more labored as I lean over a drawing or a poem. My voice, my breathing, the habits of my gestures – these are things only my mother knows. Perhaps every daughter sees herself first through her mother’s eyes, then spends a lifetime trying to define herself separate from her mother.

Over the years of my childhood, my mother chipped away at the forest around our house, adding gardens that fit together like a collection of different rooms or one of her quilts, until those seedlings we’d cultivated were mature plants, wild and enormous, falling over themselves with the weight of their flowers. Like her gardens, my mother’s way of loving was untamed – her neglect let things grow as they would. My mother could be sharp-tongued and careless, saying something hurtful and then blaming me for being hurt. She never minced words or said something just to make me feel better. She loved fiercely. Her way of nurturing was not gentle. Following her example, I learned to tend to living things, to love the earth, to speak honestly, to let dirt stay under my nails.

My mother breast fed me for the first year of my life and tells me breast feeding is “an art, not a science.” At first, breast feeding was painful and difficult, but eventually, she says, we learned each other’s rhythms. This closeness, of course, evolved over the years, from days spent in the neighbor’s greenhouse, to painful arguments over my independence, to that moment looking at my bruised and stitched breasts when I couldn’t be without her. The process of asserting an identity unique from the woman that formed me felt like a painful breaking off. A cleaving, not unlike ripping roots from their soil, cutting tissue from the body, splitting icebergs into ocean.

*

Big breasts in particular, have a long history of representing fertility and life. The Venus of Willendorf, a small figurine from the Paleolithic era carved around 25,000 years ago, has breasts that dominate her entire torso and overshadow the mere suggestion of her arms. Her curves, the perfect shape for fitting in the palm of a hand, and her age make her undeniably beautiful. Looking at the Venus of Willendorf is to understand why, in an era when the glaciers that formed the Earth had only recently receded, fertility, the capacity to continue human life, was worshiped. I remember the first time I saw her in an art history book and told myself I could love my big breasts, I could see mine as beautiful too, in how they connect me to a far greater natural world. I am my mother’s daughter after all, and this is something my mother would think.

*

I wouldn’t even understand how much pain I’d become accustomed to until a week after the surgery when I walked down an ordinary street and suddenly realized my neck and upper back didn’t hurt. It was like getting a new pair of glasses – when you first put them on and look at the trees and see their distinct leaves, you think: this is how other people have been existing all along.

There is a much-touted statistic of a 95% satisfaction rate in breast reduction patients, who feel immediate relief from pain, greater comfort, and self-confidence. As my scars healed and the stitches dissolved into my body, I felt that happiness too. At night, I unhooked my bra and released my breasts. Each fit satisfyingly in a palm like Venus of Willendorf figurine might, like they were made of a palm. I looked directly at my breasts in the mirror and they were beautiful like moons, like milk, like lakes. Their weight a soft, tender thing. My breasts became beautiful and scarred.

However, I also understood that I had allowed something of myself to be cut out. I had ablated my shame and pain, my tissue and skin, but these things had been part of me, part of the body that carries me through the world and part of the story of me. Surely the emotional trauma of being bullied, the pain of holding myself upright day in and day out, had played a role in shaping who I am.

*

A year after my breast reduction, I went to Iceland, where every day seemed to hold many days within it, each unfolding in a different scene, and where the landscape itself held multitudes. Driving through Iceland is like driving through different planets – this one is lumpen ancient moss; this one is black sand with white grasses; this one is waterfalls; this one rainbows. On one of these endless days of passing through strange worlds, I drove with an Australian girl I’d just met in the hostel a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Jökulsárlón, so we could see the glacier lagoon.

When I first saw the glacier, it looked more alive than I expected, like a great beast sliding down the mountain. I didn’t know how right I was: glaciers move up to 45 meters a day and are, in a way, living things. They contain a complex biome of microbes including algae, bacteria, and viruses, which can have descended from microbes that existed 60,000 years ago. Their photosynthesis sucks carbon from the atmosphere and helps regulate our planet. When they are lost into the ocean through ablation, they can release large quantities of harmful methane gases. Microbes are also in our bodies, regulating our biological processes. Pause now to appreciate the smallest living things and what they do for us, as they melt from icebergs, as they churn through the glands in our body. We – the microbes and I and the Australian girl and some sea birds – were the only other living things there that day. Some of the icebergs were brilliant blue, a sign of their ancientness as time and immense pressure have caused them to release air and thus absorb longer, red wavelengths and reflect that stunning kind of blue. Some icebergs caught the eternally fading light. All were broken pieces of the glacier, drifting down the river into the ocean. That was about ten years ago, a time I now know the icebergs melted half as fast as they do now.

*

So, what is lost with ablation? When a body or a mother-daughter pair or an iceberg is cleaved, that particular completeness will not come back. My breasts reformed. My relationship with my mom, too, took shape to became something new. Icebergs and their microcosms cannot come back.

I think we carry the ghosts of who we’ve been with us wherever we go. Sometimes, rarely, I feel a sharp pain shooting into the tissue of my breast. It’s a brief lighting of synapses, and then it’s gone. A memory of a past breaking.

Issue 21/22 · Climate Change · page 4

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Jettisoned · David P. Miller
Burning up
now, next to
wood house.
Look there:
grass boil.

And quasi-
nature, it
ravishes.

No prayers
force hold
on such mud.

Submerged
or sizzled,
know which
hat’s yours.

Burn table,
spree-chop
bedsteads.
And colder.

A school
of water
or none.
A bog city.

We patrol
ceilings’
collapse.
Roof acid
in summer.

A gravity
of heated
turf clot.

In chaff,
in flood,
in parch,
rid of us.

Firebird · Jan Seagrave
Koo-loo-pe is Hummingbird in Coast Miwok myth

Smog chokes my garden
dry from drought
as disease brings death
to the flooding planet

Hibiscus and sage
open up this morning
We await the sun
light of a new world

A darting scarlet flame
zigzags before me and hovers
then flies on
I must have been a flower

Was it Koo-loo-pe
In the old stories
He returned to a dark earth
stolen sun under his chin

Next time Koo-loo-pe
may bring us
a bright
purifying asteroid

Faster and Faster · Karen Friedland
Sometimes,
a person needs to take a time-out
from marching through
her days –

that busy pattern in the granite,
those never-ending tasks,
that walking about with a clenched jaw
from absorbing the world-on-fire’s pain –

those searing images of baby kangaroos
dead, clutching at fences
and koala bears
burnt beyond all recognition.

Later,
the almost-painfully-distilled brilliance
of the writer’s marvelous words, worlds,
inhabiting your own as if by devilry, through the page,
beating up against your bitter exhaustion.

The realization that,
faster and faster,
this all ends.

After the Floods · Babitha Marina Justin
After the floods we opened our eyes to see new gods who don’t live on clouds or the hills.

After the floods, our heroes died in cinema halls and fishermen rowed towards us with their iron arms and winning smiles.

After the floods, wealth had a new meaning; it was the treasure of love in our neighbor’s eyes.

After the floods, every child was born godless, without tinsel dreams.After the floods, truth defoliated past scars with a new mud-skin pack.

Wind · Ed Meek
Doesn’t it seem to have a mind of its own?
Or am I just anthropomorphizing
the way we do with dogs,
assuming that longing look
means love when it really means
pet me. Well,
hasn’t the wind picked up lately?
Like the rain
Or lack of it, the snow
Or lack of it, the temperature
in Anchorage, wildfires in California?
Still the wind seems mysterious –
the way it sneaks up
from behind – we hear it before we see it
and we see it in its influence
like fear, racing clouds, swaying trees,
sand in our eyes! It nudges us forward
or holds us back
and when we harness it,
transforms into green energy,
turning immense blades –
ancient windmills reconfigured
to slow changes in climate
like a thumb in a dike.
NATURE TAKING ITS COURSE · Douglas Twells
The last time we visited –
Jabalpur, something
was missing. Mornings.
The usual music and racket.

I finally asked,
“Where are the birds?”
So gradual the decline,
Brendan hadn’t noticed.

Ravens collecting scraps,
parrots chattering, sparrows
fluttering through flats. Gone.
A city abandoned by birds.

Then, the same or different,
there’s Venice. Sinking
they say. Or the sea rising.
Or both. I asked Paolo

how he felt, Venetian,
father of my grandchildren.
A wave of resignation.
A look of disdain. Citing

the corruption and decades
spent on the gates, he said,
“Nature should be allowed,
I believe, to take its course.”

homo sapiens dead at 300,100 · Wendy Drexler
– after Victoria Chang

Homo sapiens – died after a long and debilitating illness on August 13, 2121. An autopsy attributed the cause of death to omnicide. Multiple signs of systemic organ failure emerged in the early Anthropocene but went largely unnoticed under the tick-tock of floods and fires, flight and fight, hot heads and heat waves, ongoing research studies, and garden parties. Once considered the pinnacle of creation, Homo sapiens was renowned for an unusually large brain, opposable thumb, and tool use. The species enjoyed a brilliant, albeit brief, life on the planet; made advances in word play, art, science, and technology; and loved anecdotes, the man in the moon, and emoticons. Homo sapiens held itself in high esteem for its poetry, sculpture, soufflés, and musical compositions. Members reportedly confessed to having been moved to tears in the presence of art. The species may have been unique in this capacity. Having evolved from a “warm little pond,” as Charles Darwin, one of the species’ exemplary scientists, called it, the deceased harmonized for millennia with the carbon cycle; exulted in the smell of ions after rain and the lullaby of day-night, and cohabited during its lifetime with an astonishing variety of life forms, most of which it drove to extinction. In later life, Homo sapiens acquired a rudimentary understanding of DNA and AI along with a pastiche of joys and sorrows, but was unable to transform to pure intelligence in time to save itself. Meanwhile, tardigrades, dressed in a protective cloud to shield themselves from the still raging fires, have stepped up to colonize newly accessible ecological niches. Memorial contributions can be made to Planet Earth, which is expected to make a full recovery in a few thousand years.

COLOPHON

Fonts used:
Arvo for text; Merriweather Sans for titles; Montserrat for button and navigation text; Cormorant for issue title.

All works copyrighted by their authors; all rights reserved.

Cover image copyright Pat Dugger

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