Someone came by the rest stop today. But they were only there to deliver a newspaper. They said so several times. I think they were afraid I was asking them for help.
I’ve copied part of an article from the paper. Apparently people in the capital are getting panicked. I don’t know what it’s like where you are. (I don’t know where you are.)
AREA MAN URGES CAUTION AMID KARSA DISTURBANCE
Editorial, Ravin Dasai
Let me tell you the story as we’ve received it: Nineteen years since the water came gunning for the land, and here, unpredicted and as yet unexplained, is the land come gunning for what we have left. Having taken our already burned-out middle lands, it will stretch out its toes and fingers, tangle our unkempt byways with creeping vines, invade our failing rice paddies with spindly saplings. But give it time, and it will claim our cities, will cage the capitols and courthouses with tall mahoganies and teak, will bind in ivies our many-storied office buildings. There must be, the commentators say, some focal point to which this new disaster is spreading, and the public seems to have agreed upon the clock it will advance by. The decision people are debating in the corner stores and board rooms is not whether to run, but when.
Let me tell you why the choice is simple. Let me tell you why I’ve chosen to stay.
There’s a “Continued on A6” at the bottom, but my hand is tired from writing it out. I didn’t know the land was moving anywhere else, or had any direction. Things here seem like summer, like normal. I thought maybe it was done.
Remember, I am at the Starling Lookout rest stop about six miles from Junction North. There is a mailbox here at which I can receive mail. I should be here a while.
Stubborn Panembrama, your father, did not expect to have to keep you. The widow down the road was infirm, too old to look after you, though he did take several shots at persuasion. Once forced, he took his duty as father seriously, though mostly he took it to mean he had to give you food; feed you he did, so that by the time you could roll over you shared with him an enormous appetite, a round hello of belly.
Despite this you were a hard baby, knees like rocks and ankles knobby. You crawled the floor well past the point it was your only option. You climbed everything. You kicked—the stoop, the bottoms of the cabinets, the posts of the bed. It was your protest against the quiet of the house. Your father didn’t allow other varieties.
When you learned words you learned them in small strange pockets. You would stand at the window and murmur them to yourself, poring over their many combinations, impossibly small universes of eat-look-get. Hat-sun-best. Road-wet-try. Lose-fly-linen. You stood at the window, and the window was open, but you did not go outside.
I see you at your highway lookout. I see you standing at the railing and looking down over the valley. I think of you, reciting your worlds, but you aren’t talking to me. You are quiet. You aren’t saying anything, and so I can’t come near.
When you aren’t near me I move and do not move. It is a constant and invisible energy that you breed. I have put down my roots in my age, and yet I grow anxious without you; moss grows over me like a net, moss is over all the houses in the valley, spreading, a slow and kneading grasp, like a hand balling up in a blanket.
I see you open an umbrella and it makes me glad, for I get sick when you get wet. I see you standing on the hill overlooking the valley, that slick black and only shield firm above your head. I watch you walking back to the building you now occupy.
Do you ever feel drawn, magnetic, to the place you are truly from? Do you ever hear the voice, not quite your own, that even in times of comfort, even in your own house, has always asked to go home?
Dear Ravin Dasai,
I don’t know if you remember the article you wrote for The Daily Word, the editorial from a week or so ago. Here’s a part of it so you know what I am referencing (I have already written out the first half and do not want to do it again):
MAN, cont’d from A1
There is no reason anyone’s been able to furnish that I should panic and abandon ship. The commentators fret that, just as the sea spoiled nineteen years ago, so is the land now tired of our tenure; that it will reject and evict us, its disappointing stewards; that the time of living and working any old where is past; that we shall become clustered in small, planned enclaves in the most viable and protected valleys. This pseudo-scientific prognosticating has been vetted by exactly zero ecologists, but for the panicking public, any formal attempt at projection is meaningless: however long we have until this next great disaster, there is comfort, albeit false, in constantly holding it in mind, in making a plan, in rejecting the unknowable wait.
To be sure, I don’t like the prospect of waiting around on the land’s mysterious terms. I don’t like imagining the experience of those unfortunates in Karsa, who did not have the foreknowledge, however incomplete, that we have. But I have to wonder: What would really happen, if the land decided it was done with us? Am I so afraid of the unknown that I disown our history—that this land, hard though it is, has brought our people nothing they cannot endure, and brought us much that we can boast? What new element does this cataclysm carry that my ancestors, our seven thousand generations, have not confronted and named? What is there in the land that threatens, that doesn’t also make up me? Here we stand now, nineteen years since the disaster—and it was a disaster; I do not deny we were staring obsolescence in the face. Still, can we not say now that we have survived? Might we not, for a moment, exercise some self-belief? And might some sudden stirring from the land not be seen as an act of rejuvenation—like ours, after the disaster, an attempt to recover?
I am not being poetic. I am in fact withdrawing from poetry, from the argument that we must be wary and watchful and react and ruminate before we can begin to live. The reality is we yet live, and live well, on the land, eating food from the land, in houses sustained by the land. I have no reason to up-end this life unless I believe in the hypothetical of a land which wants us gone, which has volition and will act upon it. I have no reason to believe this notion which seems, to me, needlessly narrativized, pregnant with panic, and forced too early upon a disaster-tired public. Neither do you.
So, at the end of it you put your name and your entire address, like you wanted someone to write a letter to talk you out of it.
I could maybe do that. The land came to my house, in Karsa. It crushed my house with me still in it. I don’t know how it works, but I can say that the land is moving about as fast as I’m moving, and it’s hard to tell what direction. Where I am now, the nearest town has begun to empty out, and from a distance you’ll see a layer of fuzzy green is grown over it, like an early mold. Apparently the land gives some warning, so you are right that if it came for you, and you were paying attention, you would have enough time to decide on your own terms to leave or stay. I did not decide fast enough. I understood eventually what must be happening, but I didn’t leave and didn’t leave.
But this isn’t why I’m writing. This letter is just to say hello. And, you are a good writer, even if you are probably wrong. I am alone here, but when I read your article it was like I wasn’t having my thoughts by myself anymore, like I could hear another version of me calling up from a very deep pit, smarter and straighter up than I am, but far away, and stuck, and small. While I read, it was like I was talking to that person, like I was born two people but long ago had chosen just one to be, and like I was now unhappy with the choice. How do you write a thing that does that and do you know that you’re doing it when it happens?
I am at a rest stop just off the highway near Junction North. In a rest stop the night is too dark outside and too bright inside. To eat there are only stale honey buns and licorice bits, and only a hard wood bench to sleep on, with divots made to hold traveler’s asses, weird hollows my back won’t mold to. All night there are noises, highway and wild, and I can see myself reflected in the skylight, like there’s a ghost hovering up there waiting for me to give up my body. I get no kind of sleep. But that is all there is to do.
Despite the situation I have not yet moved. I am afraid of letting the land break in on me again and afraid also of leaving, since (obviously) the land is everywhere. There must be places where the land does not go, and for the time being, it has left me alone. I think the land does not like concrete, roads, cement. That is something I can offer you as well: if your city has many roads or buildings, you might be just fine.
But there is a lot I don’t know, and I don’t write to give you answers. I write to say you’re a good writer, that’s all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one person put so many words together. My letter has a lot of writing in it, I guess, but I don’t mean for you to do anything about it.
You don’t have to write me back.