August 2020

Gaia’s Lament: A Call to Awaken

Page 3

“Lines from Rachel Carson’s 1955 book, The Edge of the Sea, mis-shelved among magazines and reference works” by Lita Kurth (Fiction)

“The arctic jellyfish continues to pulsate when half its bell is imprisoned in ice”

One half of us is submerged in ice. Each thinks it’s the other half. What is ice? The substance that keeps us immobile, that can’t let us feel, dissociates us—in psychiatrist Mark Epstein’s words, “the shocked self walls itself off from that which it cannot bear.”

Maybe both halves are imprisoned in ice. Some of us already were trapped in foreclosures, student debt, rotten jobs—legal pot didn’t save us; narcotics, sedatives, and tranquilizers didn’t save us. The banks were supposed to save us. They saved themselves instead, then stepped on our heads to get a better view of their bloated winnings. The bills came in, and we closed our eyes and picked which one to pay.

Some are “shrunk down to the very core of their animal beings”

When people live like donkeys chained to a millstone of ten-hour, twelve-hour days, when their “betters” from afar, mistake them for animals, when some mistake themselves for animals, smelling, grunting, scraping through the trash…then the comfortable can look down from a window above the smell and assign blame.

“Some escape by being boring”

Don’t wear a safety pin. You might end up on a list.
Don’t post political news on Facebook if you want to keep your job.
Don’t use your real name if it’s unusual.
Don’t sign on-line petitions.
Never attend demonstrations. The enemy tracks you via cell phone.

“Some keyhole limpets and brittle stars die when the shallow waters heat”

2) When do shallow waters heat?

  • a) when a dictator gets elected
  • b) when a dictator doesn’t win but still goes on to be dictator
  • c) I don’t know

“Other shore animals die at the end of summer”

1) Who are the shore animals?

  • a) all of the poor of the flyover states?
  • b) all the disconnected cooking meth in trailers until they’re sent to prison for horning in on a bigger market.
  • c) mothers without jobs getting evicted along with their children
  • d) teenage fathers bound for prison, babies alone at 4 AM

“Ghost crabs and beach fleas are believed to dig very deep holes in the sand”

3) Do you believe in ghost crabs?

  • a) yes, hallelujah
  • b) no, when crabs are eaten, the remains sit in the sun and rot
  • c) I believe in beach fleas

4) Why don’t we know for sure what ghost crabs and beach fleas do?

  • a) Because we haven’t stuck around long enough to observe
  • b) Because we don’t have the right equipment
  • c) Because no one can name the day when they shall rise

5) Can they sense one another deep in the sand?
6) How?
7) Or do they feel isolated, cold and damp? Do they feel buried alive?
8) How do they know when it’s time to come up?
9) Does spring always come?

“Angel wings [a shellfish] seemingly fragile as china [are] nevertheless able to bore into clay or rock”

10) In this context, “seemingly fragile” means:

  • a) there are miracles
  • b) human potential is infinite
  • c) for good and evil both
  • d) we’re all a collection of opposites
  • e) we have to start believing
  • f) the truth blinds you before it sets you free. It strikes you dumb. It sickens you. It’s unbearable.
  • g) don’t try to break me.

An abrupt or drastic change is fatal”

This drastic change is fatal: to our hopes, to democracy, that general, abstract word that cuts a hole in my ribcage. The laws are fallen; the understandings we thought we had are fallen; the testimony of the poor and overlooked that made it to Washington from far off and far down is fallen, all fallen and swept away. What is left that the new regime can still excise from this bleeding body? Can we live as only a head and a fist? Make that half a head with dim sight and blocked ears. 

[somewhere there is] a living place for animals that cannot endure”

I am not an ocean person. I’m a lake, a river person. The ocean’s too strong, too big. It has no end. 

I had a dream that was above all, tranquil. So relaxed. So like nothing in these months.  This tempest will rage; the tidal wave will sweep the edge-dwellers out to sea. Who will be there to witness? All those safely on land will be watching the surfers, roaring around in cars. Will we ever return to that seascape of simple being? Can we escape the undertow?  

Introduction to CLIMIES

The novel CLIMIES follows Russell Peppers, a young amnesiac who ventures forth to discover a world flooded by 500 feet of searise. When he returns, he encounters a mysteriously possessed man who seems to know everything about him.

“Chapter Eighteen from CLIMIES” by Michael J. Vaughn (Fiction)

Carbon Sink

    He follows the man into an adjoining room. The man wears a gray suit that hangs loosely. The walls are covered in round tree slices, each inscribed with its taxonomy: black ash, northern red oak, swamp birch, loblolly pine. The floor is hardwood, a bit like the basketball court, but the stripes have a great variety, as if they were cut from many different types of trees.

    The man sits at a desk topped with a thick slab of wood. The grain swirls and eddies in channels of red and gold. Russell sits in a chair opposite and finds himself lost in the patterns.

“It was cut from a redwood burl, about five miles from here. A fourteen thousand dollar desk! But it was love at first sight – I had to have it. It’s very comforting, don’t you think?”

“Yes, it is.”

    The man stares at him. His features are almost painfully sharp, and his eyes are pure gray. With the white hair, it’s almost like he’s made of ice.

“So how are you, Russell?”

“I’m… all right. Got stuck in a feeding frenzy on the way here.”

“I’m not sure I understand you.”

“Pelicans, seagulls, dolphins. Going after sardines.”

“Goodness! Well, it’s nice to know the wildlife is doing well.”

“I don’t think they miss us.”

“Did the folks at Skyline treat you well?”

“They sort of adopted me. Until… wait a minute. Are you the one receiving the signals?”

    He spreads a hand across his temple and draws his thumb and fingers together.

“Yes. I’m sorry about that. I mean, about you getting caught. I didn’t anticipate you spraining your ankle. Perhaps I should have. You were always a bit of a rough-houser. Now there’s an interesting phrase. Valerian. Etymology of ‘rough-house.’”

    A soothing baritone fills the room. “A ‘rough house’ in 19th century Britain was an inn, pub or private home where brawls regularly broke out.”

“Thank you. Well, that certainly makes sense.”

“Were you spying on us?” asks Russell. “Are you a Patriot?”

    The man laughs. “No. I was spying on you. I wanted to make sure you were all right.”


“You and I have a… quasi-familial bond.”

    Russell looks into the burl, at an auburn sweep that resembles witch-hair.

“Then… why don’t I remember you?”

    The man tents his fingers. “A memory crimp. I wanted to send you into the world without the burden of your past.”


    The man picks up a silver ball and lets it drop – but it doesn’t. It hovers three inches from his hand. He moves his fingers; the ball follows.    “Pretty cool, huh? Designed this in college. I call it a followball. Want to try?”

“Answer the question please.”

    The man stands and puts his hands in his pockets. “I always thought you should go into law. Such a focused interrogator. That’s why I called you, um, Russell.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Nothing much does.” He looks ceiling-ward. “You demanded to go outside, to see the ruined world. I wanted you to be free of any connection to me, which would only bring trouble. I am worse than a Patriot. A million times worse. I am the worst man on the planet. Mind if we walk?”

“Sure. Where to?”

“Name a general location. Meadow, woods, strip mall.”

“A beach.”

“Excellent! Follow me. Valerian! Hypo. Beach.”

    He leads Russell to another room covered in tree slices. At the end is a large mirror, ten feet square. The man walks right at it. Russell flinches. But the man goes right in. He stops halfway, his left side reflected to produce a symmetrical version of himself.

“Don’t worry. It’s just reflective gas. Come on in.”

“Oh… kay.”

    The mirror zips around him like a jacket. He’s on a beach. It’s foggy and windy. The sand is lightly colored with touches of orange and cinnamon. They walk toward a half-dozen seastacks rising from the surf. The two largest ones resemble sea elephants in full roar. They pass a grandfather and grandson trying to raise a dragon kite. Russell looks down and finds that his clothes have changed. He’s wearing jeans and a green rain jacket. The man wears white pants and a plaid red coat. He looks around, savoring the scene.

“Is this real?” asks Russell.

“Partly. I call it a hyposphere. It combines elements of 3D repro with holographic imagery and reflective projection.”

    Russell scoops up a handful of sand and lets it run through his fingers.

“Is this a copy of a real place?”

“Port Orford, Oregon. I used to spend summers here. My family made its fortune in lumber.”

“Which explains the tree slices.”

    The man smiles. “Exactly. I sometimes wonder if that’s where my general disregard for the natural world came from. I suppose it’s like a hunter who hangs the heads of the animals he’s killed.”

“You would think it would be the opposite,” says Russell. “You would think if something made you all that money, you’d be appreciative.”

“Yes. Let’s see, where was I going with this? Oh! Humility aside, I’m a brilliant man. They noticed that early on. I would behave like an ordinary kid, but then I would get these flashes of insight, unfocused but genius. So they passed me through all my degrees with little work, just waiting for these epiphanies, like an old lady working a slot machine. Eventually I became determined to harness these powers, and in studying my brain I became fascinated by all brains. I was finishing my second doctorate when I published a paper on algorithmic manipulation of mass thought. That’s when I got the call.”

“Cal Dickerson. The biggest petroleum tycoon in the world. The climate alarmists were putting a crimp in his business. He wanted to keep his cash cow going until every last oil reserve was dry. What he envisioned was to turn petroleum into a family value – a political cause, maybe even a religion. If I did that, and he could keep buying up politicians, then we could keep the ball rolling.”

“The absurdity of it all appealed to my hungry brain and my tremendous ego. I was just enough of a self-centered prick that the chance to test my theories on such an epic scale outweighed any consideration for the damage I might do.”

    He spots a disc-shaped rock, picks it up and flings it at the breakers. It takes a long skip and arrows into a wave.

“See, if this was a less realistic program, that rock would have skipped all the way to Hawaii.”

    Russell clears his throat. “So what happened to your experiment?”

“Yes, counselor.” He claps the sand from his palm. “Believe it or not, I underestimated myself. Social media had reached a perfect peachy ripeness. All I had to do was magnify the already extant battles to send right-wingers to their extremes. I had people delivering death threats to fictional beings across the country. Climies against Patriots for the future of the world. Dickerson kept making his billions, they sent a shit-ton to me, and I kept refining the processes. It turns out that the average American mind is vastly easy to manipulate. The pump has already been primed with centuries of bigotries and hatreds. The Patriots were easiest of all, because they were religious. They wanted to believe things, and to think they were better than other people. As it turns out, they were also willing to kill for the things they believed in.”

“The mass killings, in fact, were the first things to penetrate my thick skull. Then one day an old friend called me with the latest news about the climate. It was too late, he said, we had tripped the switch. We were doomed. The pivotal miss on my part was the permafrost. We always knew the Arctic tundra was an enormous carbon sink. What we failed to anticipate was what would happen if it melted and released that carbon into the atmosphere. It raised the temperature an additional half a degree, creating an exponential feedback loop. It was now out of our hands.”

“The Patriots were too far gone. I had done a masterful job of programming them. They wanted so badly to believe in their cause that they would gather at vulnerable lowlands to protest, as if they could shout back the water.”

    He stops and digs a toe into the sand. He holds a palm to his forehead.

“This part is about your parents. Do you want to know?”

“Of course.”

“Yes. That’s why I call you… Russell.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Sorry. Your folks were from Lake Tahoe. They came all the way to Pacifica and stood atop cliffs that had been falling into the ocean for decades. A storm surge came in, pounding the cliff walls, and still they remained. Finally the ground beneath them collapsed, sending them into the surf below. They found you clinging to an old power pole, a few feet from where they had stood. Some bystanders took you into town. You were only six. When I saw the video I said, ‘I want that kid.’ I’ve done so much damage, there’s no way I could make up for it all, but I thought, maybe I can start with this one kid.”

    The man stares at the waters off Port Orford, spotlight shafts of sun piercing the overcast.

“This was a good choice. I’m pretty sure the world has no beaches right now.”

“No. It doesn’t.”

“I will give you your memory back if you want. The operation is fairly simple. But I warn you, those memories will hurt.”

“I want them.”

    The man chuckles. “Of course you do. You want to know everything. That’s why I called you Quiz.”

“Quiz? Really?”

“Yep. My name’s Tammany Cole. Come on, let’s get you some dinner.”

“That sounds good.”    They turn and follow their own footprints back toward town.

“Another Sunny Day in Paradise” by Cynthia Benson (Fiction)

They say a man named Gore had warned them, all those decades ago, but they had moved too slowly. Inertia made all the difference.  Made the seas rise up in anger, made the deserts blow stinging sand in the eyes of babes, made the winds knock sacred homes to their knees.  Mother Earth, creaking and moaning like a neglected Harpie whose children never called.  

Because of those who could not act, I can only read of a blue-green marble of a planet, now a mustard brown swirl, my own neighborhood, long ago stripped bare by baking heat.  I gaze over at the cactus that struggles to survive, just as I do. 

I reach for Archie, who is heading toward it, who has known only this in his two years, and I grab the back of his coveralls with their fireproof label.  The label that does not refer to house fires, but to the fact that they won’t burst into flame from the sheer heat of that fiery orb above us — that taunting exhibitionist that hangs there relentlessly, flaunting his nudity, never dressed in filmy clouds anymore. 

I drag Archie into the shelter, and we drink our second ration of water for the day, sipping delicately from the china thimble.  Archie moves too quickly, in his baby ways, and knocks it from my fist. 

It dries on the tiles before we can find a cloth to soak it up and suck on.  I begin to cry quietly, our tear ducts the only place where water flow is plentiful.  I scoop Archie in my arms for comfort, our scaly hides scraping together as I hold him and he flails.  

They say that human skin was once smooth, that the moisture of the air caressed it. That a baby felt like a vessel of glass as you ran hands over limbs, tenderly.  

They tell me passionate lovers sealed their bodies on hot, sweaty nights, a glossy sheen of love emitting, that glistened before you and did not disappear before your eyes could catch it. 

I try to close my eyes and imagine. But it is too hard.  It hurts my chest, and I cannot breathe.  It was too hard for them to believe their imagination and act.  And it is impossible for me now, in so many ways.