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144 | ecotone Imperium g. c. waldrep Once the people have been loaded onto the truck it will get very quiet. ✶ In your apartment, you will look up from the book you were reading. ✶ There are stars named for other stars, someone said. ✶ In your book, a wolf is listening to that same music. | 145 On a Raft, Relaxing into the West,Where We Are In South Carolina, an environmentalist describes an audio recording of the last gurgle of the Keowee, before the dam was built, as “the hair of an actual Christ” while across the street from my house a mortician’s assistant is digging up a body he will later rebury three graves over. Sometimes we get it wrong the first time. Sometimes we’re out at the barn when the prime directive comes through, “Do no harm” or “Don’t forget to water the lilacs if it gets too dry.” We acquiesce to gravity—it’s a reasonable concession, like eating or sleeping— only it turns out gravity’s just a bargain the earth made with its own rotation, millennia ago. It’s about neither us nor professional basketball, which troubles the bureaucrats in their little cubicles. The list of acceptable two-letter words in Scrabble continues to expand, experts tell us, and no, things would not have turned out differently, or not much, if you’d managed to save your first marriage, if the mills were still turning out bolts of high-quality greige, if the jugglers had understood the heavy water symbolism in Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick means never having to say “I’m sorry, can I have a do-over?” to the frowning judges, to the television audience. You’re standing nearly alone at the top of a great height with odd shafts of fiberglass strapped to your feet, and all this snow. You can see the puff of your own breath 146 | ecotone like some flag you’ve forgotten how to salute, only it won’t be the first time some total stranger patted you on the shoulder and said “Be happy” or “There’s still time to read Shakespeare’s sonnets,” or simply “Mind the gap.” Right now people are converging on yet another island named after a dead president with inflatable hammers. I’m not sure how much I’m not supposed to notice, I tell my ophthalmologist, who nods, adjusts his instruments. I listen to the field recordings: the trading path crossed here, the oak beneath which the treaty was signed stood here. Nevil Shute imagined nuclear apocalypse so we don’t have to, is how one of my high school teachers explained it, looking up from a tattered paperback copy of William Bartram’s Travels. All the nurses have left town for the holiday. We arrive in the park with our expectations intact only to find somebody else’s church group hogging the picnic shelters, somebody else’s dogs tearing after the plastic Frisbees. And it’s maybe a little chillier than we expected, though the lilacs are blooming, and it’s difficult to feel sorry for ourselves, or for the soldiers in their distant bivouacs knitting flameproof balaclavas. Molten rock seeps from beneath the surface of the earth and the Hawaiians call it “a’a.” You can see it in the satellite photos, along with Mexico City and the Great Wall. From space the earth looks so much like a great big globe, the joke goes, covered with postmodernists in speedboats and stray harbor voltage. We want g. c. waldrep | 147 to get it right, but first we want lunch, and Brylcreem, and designer steroid injections, things that will make us bigger, stronger, faster. Our parents, for instance. We want them where we can see them, hands up, teeth out. We want them to remain where they are. ...


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pp. 144-147
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