I was on my way to the kitchen when I saw the tears in my partner’s eyes. After some coaxing, she said she’d just read an article about my country, about what our new president is doing. I knew things were bad, she said. I just hadn’t realized the extent of it. And then she gave me a look I knew well: she was gauging whether this would (as it has so often in the past) push me closer to breaking.
I said, It’s okay. Don’t worry. I know. I wasn’t looking at her; I had my gaze pinned on something featureless and inoffensive, like the wall above the kitchen cupboards. Sometimes you avert your eyes not because you don’t want to see, but because you don’t want to be seen. It’s fine, I repeated. He will destroy everything the past years have built. We knew this from the start.
Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to be. These days I don’t spend much time guessing.
How I cook: butter and heat. Let the edges of the food turn a rich brown. Take it to the point of caramelization, tip it over– but only just.
Try to stop short of burning.
If I could afford to have eyes for the future, I would try to guess: is my motherland set so firmly on this path that nothing will sway it? Are we wholly bent on our destruction? Most importantly: is there anything we can do (was there anything we could have done) to stop it, to turn back, to somehow keep from falling apart–
–but you see, these are questions I cannot ask, because I cannot look ahead further than the next day. Give me anything after tomorrow, and I lose myself in thoughts of abyss.
Instead here is what I can think about: what do we have in the fridge, can we afford to have the heating on tonight, are our meds close to running out? Is it time to put the bins out; to pay the gas bill; to shuffle accounts around for rent? Am I unwell, and if so, how much household work can I do, will this impact my deadlines, can I take a nap? It is mundane and ordinary and perfectly, excruciatingly small, and sometimes — those few times when my thoughts try to turn to larger things, just before my mind shrinks away from the immensity of it, all the sun-struck terror blazing forth from grandeur — I think this smallness will damn me.
(It is difficult, when the choice is: be small to live, or act in large ways and risk dying. It reminds me of prey.)
This is what I did after my conversation with my partner about my country:
I sliced mushrooms. I sauteed garlic. I set about boiling water for pasta.
I did not think, we will fatten the fish of Manila Bay with the corpses of our people.
Sometimes poetry burns itself into you. Like this:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I used to think I would rather be the worst, and burn with all the force of my belief, than give nothing to the world but an insipid existence.
These days I’m revising my opinion. I’m seeing what passionate intensity can do.
I wanted to ask, where does this leave us? but again, I flinch away from that question, its scope.
I do not want to say: we are doing this to ourselves. That may be true, but if so, it’s not my place to say it.
Nor do I want to say: this is what happens when the ends justify the means, even though that’s true — it’s a darker and more awful trail of thought to follow than what I allow myself, these days.
Instead: listen, I’m afraid, and in pain; I’m a small thing of flesh and scarred skin and the instincts of prey, and I live in a world where the land that bore me is bleeding itself to death and I can only watch in horror. Listen, I don’t know what more to do, it’s hard enough just to live.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I will keep hoping. I will stand witness.
(And write and weep and remember, and — perhaps — not break.)
It may not be enough. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
For the smallest of creatures, each day survived is its own defiance.
Note: Excerpts are from Yeats’s The Second Coming.