I won’t let you down

Not long after the global climate strikes, a poem came across my twitter feed. Named after a documentary about climate change, in Fanny Choi writes, in How To Let Go Of The World:

Among a growing list of promises I can’t make my friends: This weight will tether. You can come back up again.

Today I am in Montreal, in Canada, and it is election day. It’s mid-autumn and the leaves are everywhere from a stubborn green to a bright red. The fire in the trees here is an illusion. It’s supposed to be this way. The West coast saw fewer fires this year. My friends ask: Is it because so much of it has already burned? I don’t know the answer. I want to add to Fanny’s list of promises I can’t make my friends: I think the worst of it is over.

At a poetry reading a few weeks ago, the first truly cold night of the year, my friend told me that when the big disaster comes, whatever it is, she isn’t going to wait around to see if she can survive. I knew what she meant. I’ve been watching Doomsday Preppers with my partner when I’m too tired to do much else. A prevailing assumption: when the Great Bad Thing happens more people will be with you than against you. You must prepare with rigorous independence.

Fanny Choi writes:

I say when like disaster hasn’t already come, isn’t already growing in the yard. Do I have to run through the list? The firefighter prisoners–my friends’ islands slowly swallowed–war in my faucet, remember? Syria is the name of a drought. The name of this hurricane is Exxon, Exxon, I shout.

A friend, who belongs to the same First Nation as me, scoffed one of the first times we hung out alone together. Independence, he said. What a persistent myth. Our people lived for a very long time on the assumption that we’re no use without each other.

More promises I can’t make: If we act for something instead of against something, we can change the world.

Last year on Halloween I broke several months of sobriety at a friend’s wedding. I was feeling shy and out of place and heartbroken. I was dressed as Tina Belcher. I tried to play them a song as a wedding gift, but it was too late into the night and I was too drunk and I messed it up. It was pretty dark, anyway: The song is written by a young Jewish man about his grandparents, who fell in love as teenagers at the onset of the second world war. As their city was overtaken by fascists, their citizenship in the only country they had ever known was stripped away and they were sent off to gender-segregated work camps. The song tells the story of the way the singer’s grandfather clung to the memory of his lover, and that this made him brave when he wouldn’t have been. He survived. So did she. They found each other when it was all over and lived as happily ever after as they could.

Fanny, again:

When the disaster comes, some of us will stand on the rooftop to address the ghosts. Some of us will hold the line. Some of us will look for the shards, run our tongues along the floor.

In this great mess of harm, I am trying to reduce it where necessary. Voting is one way to do that. When the voting is over we will have more work to do. This is how this works.

Today, at the polling station and at work and on the long walk home, it’s Max Bemis’s lyrics I’m clinging to. They are the promise I was trying to make my friends at their wedding. They’re the promise I’m trying to make with my vote. They’re the promise I’m trying to make when I do whatever I have to do after.

When the disaster comes I want to be holding the line. I hope you are there and you are holding it with me.

Max Bemis sings in Alive With the Glory of Love:

I won’t let you down. I won’t let them take you. I won’t let them take you. Hell, no. No.


— By Tara McGowan-Ross

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