December 5, 2020

Poetry Week: Midday One – Damaris Zehner

Tsunami? Photo by Knick Knack Paddy Mac

The End of the Anthropocene
By Damaris Zehner

Picture a car, speeding along a highway in the morning.
A voice on the radio is gabbling about some crisis.
The driver’s cell phone is on, lying on the console next to her;
She’s shouting at someone. In her hand is fast food,
Wrapped in greasy yellow paper.
A coffee cup in its holder develops waves
As the car swings onto a street slick with tar –
A tunnel through skyscrapers, smog,
Car horns, wires, and metal signs.

Picture behind the car, miles away, then closer, then closer still,
A wall of water surging faster than a car can drive.
Trying to change lanes, swearing at the traffic,
The driver looks in the mirror.
Like Pharaoh on the Red Sea floor, like Noah’s neighbors,
She sees the future become her present.
A rush of water through the city canyons,
A jumble of cars stirred into foam –
The wall moves on.

Picture: on the surface of a silent sea, oil spreads its peacock tail.
Cars, a couch, bottles, bags, one purple Croc, a paper diaper
Bob, briefly.
Like snags in a river, like compound fractures,
Office buildings, phone poles, and billboards break the surface.
The car sinks, releasing one last gasp of air;
The couch subsides. The garbage drifts on.
Slowly the snags tip, then crumble,
Splashing briefly as they succumb.
Unbroken surface;
Unbroken silence.

Photo by Knick Knack Paddy Mac at Flickr. Creative Commons License


  1. Into the great Silence.

  2. Robert F says

    Here is a moving image of apocalypse. When he wrote, This is the way the world ends/ This is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper, this is what T.S. Eliot was prophesying. …And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters…

  3. Stephen says

    A couple of weeks ago I attended a screening of a movie called HOMO SAPIENS by Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter. The film consists of long takes of images of abandoned and ruined human constructions – towns, malls, churches, hospitals – slowly being reclaimed by nature, with no dialog, only ambient environmental sounds. After a while the cumulative effect is overwhelming. This is what the world would be like after humanity has passed away. The title of the film is appropriate because human beings are present by being absent.

    Leaving the theater I overheard a conversation between a couple of people who seemed gleeful at the prospect. And I think you can detect this kind of attitude among some segments of the environmental community. As if humans are interlopers, spoilers, as if our presence is a mistake. This idea disturbs me more than the movie. Looked at from an evolutionary point of view we are a dashing success. We dominate our environment just as in ages past other species have dominated their environments. And all along each species rises, thrives for a time, and then passes away.

    We often hear from environmental activists that we should work to “save the earth” But the earth is not in danger. It will roll on no matter what happens. No, what we are trying to save is OUR place in the world. And if the concept of Deep Time teaches us anything it is perspective. Alone among the creatures of this earth we can imagine our absence. And that is why we have the right to survive.

    • Heather says

      That was a profound comment. I enjoy your perspective very much!
      I loved the images that this poem brings into my mind. Beautifully written!

    • Robert F says

      Such an insightful comment. Earth First-ers seem to forget that human beings are a product of the natural world, and that, in a real sense, everything we do is completely natural. If we exploit resources in a way that undermines and ruins the precarious balance of ecosystems, that can only happen because nature itself has the potential for just such undermining and ruination. Nature itself is ambivalent with regard to balanced ecosystems and survival of species.

      I think it’s true that the earth as a planet is not in danger from human beings; it’s only real danger is from the death of our sun, or impact by a massive meteor, or some other non-human caused natural disaster. But we certainly are capable of destroying much of the biodiversity of the ecosystem, and taking down many other species with us. That would be a damn shame, for us and much planetary life. There is some comfort in knowing that our puny grasp cannot reach beyond our world into the vastness of the cosmos, but that doesn’t offset the real loss of planetary life we’ve already caused or may yet cause.

      • Burro [Mule] says

        The Wisdom was already encoded before the Logos liberated it.

        Owen Barfield

        • Robert F says

          Mule, I’m not sure I know what you mean. Could you expand on this?

          • Burro [Mule] says

            Put a holder here. This needs more attention than I can give it now.

            Understanding Barfield is crucial at our juncture, even if he is somwhat “tainted”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Leaving the theater I overheard a conversation between a couple of people who seemed gleeful at the prospect. And I think you can detect this kind of attitude among some segments of the environmental community.

      How humanity is a Cancer infecting The Plaaaanet and The Plaaaanet Will Heal Herself once that Cancer is expunged.
      Or Humanity deserves Extinction for our Sins Against The Plaaaanet, the Sooner the Better.
      Or We Must Mortify Ourselves to Atone for Our Sins Against The Plaaaanet. (And the Plaaaanet Will Thank Us — The Plaaanet Wuvs Us!)

      Funny… All these Activists are human, right?

    • Rick Ro. says

      I heard a comedian once say, “What’s with the push to ‘Save the Earth’? We don’t need to save the Earth. The earth will do just fine regardless. Let’s face it, what we really mean is, ‘Save US!”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        But the Activists can feel IMPORTANT, and that’s what matters.
        No matter what the collateral damage (like you & me).

  4. Robert F says

    A powerful poem, Damaris. Thank you.

    Some things just can’t be domesticated. The elemental power of water is one of them.

  5. flatrocker says

    And anyone who has replaced a floor from a leaking washing machine can attest as well.

    But for water, our monuments to our own glory would last forever.

  6. Damaris, this is strong with racial memory of “the Flood” that is world-wide, and which gets sidetracked with arguments over the story of Noah. Outside of orthodox religion and science and history, it would appear that well before we learned to write, roughly 13,000 years ago, a gigantic comet heading toward the Earth broke into pieces and hammered the planet repeatedly, much like we saw happen to Jupiter some years back. Allegedly most pieces hit within the oceans and caused waves of water not measured in hundreds of feet high but in miles, waves capable of covering a continent and carving out the Grand Canyon and leaving the Great Salt Lake behind and turning the environment on its head in what we call the Younger Dryas Period. Not a popular story with scientists and historians but one I think touches sensitive people to their core.