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Ways to Live on Earth

by  James Graham

Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Word Count: 392
Related Works: El Niņo (revised) • 

Ways to Live on Earth


All but a very few
who were content to die there,
had left the valley long ago.

Now children born in the dry cold times
heard the language of gardens:

'We remember', they heard, 'the plants of the garden,
the oaks, the almonds, the lupins, the cranesbill.

On our day of rest we walked
with our children and dogs
in the meadows under the sun,
away from the village smells.
We talked and sang and slept,
and lovers went off alone.

We could leave many roots in peace
to grow again in the coming season.'

'A god created us', they learned, 'and made
the garden. But was displeased with us,
and brought the drought and cold.'

The great protagonists whose minds were greater
than the sum of earthly minds: they understood
the far, far joy of the sad departure.


When the Sea of Marmara
burst into the Euxine Lake,
and the crops and fish traps
and landings were all lost,
and the water advanced
as fast as a man could walk,
and so many were drowned,
and the people had to leave
their ruined gardens:

'We remember the flood,' they told their children,
'that covered all the earth. It was our god
that made the earth, and drowned our villages. '

Only the gods, long-sighted far beyond
the watcher on the mountain, could perceive
the long, long blessing of the deaths of children.


It was category five, the third in as many months.
The book of names was thumbed again, and Nathan romped
on the heels of Emily and Brett. But the mind

of the wind was known. Five days before
young Nathan found his feet, his cataclysmic dreams
were modelled in high resolution, and his courses
mapped and measured to the yard. And fill the sky
with roofs or brandish bridges as he might, the people
were all gone. All but a very few -

an oddball solitary who saw his rescuers off
with a salutory salvo, a company of twelve
snuggled in the basement of some Church of Light -

were off to breezy towns a hundred miles away.
In cars and buses heading west and east,
the children of the cities, free of school for now,
chattering, questioning, pointing at their screens,
contrived with their elders ways to live on Earth.