Slices of Toast
for Ian Jack
Lying in bed in the dark without heating. December 3rd
and feeling warm, almost too warm,
I hear the window give that rattle-burp
it only ever does when the wind is fierce outside.
Black raindrops flame on the glass. Light from across
the back gardens, one lone yellow oblong, someone
up early on a winter morning. And I think
of my parents putting radiators in their home,
dark slices of metal toast in every room. Before,
it was so cold of a morning I’d leave the next
day’s clothes at the end of the bed, and I’d dress
under the blanket. Knickers, socks, vest and hand-
knitted jersey. Never without a jersey. I think of sea
current patterns explained in magazines like National
Geographic. Of mud slides in the Philippines
caused by the absence of tree roots
(hardwood cut down, making one illegal timber lord
happy and rich along with a Hong Kong importer;
we’re a terrible short-termist lot; as Plato said,
we’ll never control this except with force)
but also by the latest typhoon. Eight hundred dead
in chocolate unguent and more to be uncovered.
I think of the Gulf Stream going too much up or down
I forget which (both are bad), because the Arctic
is melting: which makes some patch of water,
crucial for the poor Gulf Stream’s cycle, too hot.
Or too cold. Of how polar bears drown, hundreds
of miles from land, as ice floes under them melt.
I think of James Lovelock’s face, after he’d given
his lecture explaining that most of this planet,
fifty years from now, will be underwater
beginning with Bangladesh, at the top
of the Bay of Bengal. Those tangled mangrove swamps
of Sundarbans, paradise for herons, king cobras,
honey-gatherers, fishermen, will no longer protect.
The hundred mouths of Ganges, plus sea
rising to meet the melt from Himalaya, will finally
swallow that land. All those wars, India,
Pakistan, the intricate woeful mud pie
of human history, will no longer matter
for Shiva will not be catching Ganga in his hair.
And a woman in the auditorium asks: If all you say
is true, what should we be teaching our children?
Now that was a question Mr Lovelock, you could see,
hadn’t faced before, and his shoulders sagged.
I don’t know. I really don’t know. But if all
he said is true, the only answer is commando skills.
Fight to the death for any high ground you’re standing on
my darling. I think of John Wyndham’s The Kraken
Wakes. The window rattles again; rattles louder.
It’s getting closer, faster and faster, whatever’s outside,
and I know the Thames Barrier, small waters
of our particular rivers, and this terrible readiness
to worry about your own family first, may be the least
of our problems but I think my daughter, my daughter,
how is she going to deal with this?