“On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be…”
Our elementary school was the oldest building in the neighborhood. Red brick with a crawl space. Its architecture rare in North Tampa. The hallways stunk of graphite. The coat closets mildewed with hooks hanging so high a third-grader was well out of reach. Each metal half-loop curving upward with a ball on the tip. Embossed on the face plate was “Made in the USA.”
And in the USA, at a school in rural Colorado, Nicaraguan, Russian, and Cuban armies parachuted into the courtyard. With automatic machine guns, they opened fire on students and teachers. Kids scrambled. Instructors were shot at close range. The image of a teenager, a bullet hole through his forehead, his limp body draped over broken glass from mortar fire, resonated within my memory. I was seven years old.
The movie Red Dawn was fresh out of the movie theater. John Milius directed the picture: one that could have become reality at the height of the Cold War.
It could have, when, months later, Iran sold weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. The world was drastically changing. Military powers were being shuffled. Tension rose on the news in between my morning cartoons.
Not far from school, at the very end of Tampa’s peninsula, sat U.S. central command. It was stuffed with airpower of all sizes and shapes. With enough nuclear explosives to sink our continent into the ocean.
Often, F-16 fighter jets would fly low enough to rattle the school building. On each fly-by, I cringed, knowing one day that hum would be the enemy. I waited for their bombs to drop.
“…On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night…”
My mom tended to ground me every weekend. Although there were windows that easily opened for escape, I’d lay in bed, pissed. Clenching my fists, I’d pound the mattress. Sand flinging into the air: that residue from refusing to let her clean my sheets. It was easy to blame her for everything. It was her fault that my life was difficult.
I hated that there was always food on the table. That the electric bill was always paid on time. That I got everything I asked for.
With DRI cranked on my stereo, I was punk. Fuck those neighborhood kids who thought I was a poser.
Suicide was probably the easiest way out. I contemplated it every weekend, often debating the most convenient method. Slit the wrists? Choke myself out? Find a gun?
It was all a puerile act. A selfish facade, thinking this is the world, my world, one that everyone and everything needed to revolve around.
I, was all that mattered. And unfortunately, I realized all that mattered was inconsequential.
It would be best to just end it, I thought.
But ending it was just too much work.
“…And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now…”
We walked across a bridge in rural Germany. Dusk fell. The water below puffed humidity skyward, balancing the chill of that June freeze. Still. The silence couldn’t have been more perfect. But in silence you’re left to think. And then you think too much.
In less than six months, the millenium would come to a close. Computer engineers, scientists, and mathematicians were confident the world’s grid system was to implode.
No one had planned on sedating the culprit: a binary code, untranslatable past the year 2000.
Devoid of electricity, that life’s blood fueling every facet of our lives, would send the Western Hemisphere into a black spiral. Our monetary system would collapse. Looting gold and silver would create a mania. Your neighbor would be your worst enemy.
“…Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.”
Czeslaw Milosz was stuck in the European massacre of World War II. His wisdom sprouting out of his giant, unkempt eyebrows. He was a man stuck between Lithuania and Poland, two countries that ceased to exist. And he Jotted words on paper, meaningless then, to those thousands suffering in tandem.
For him, every free land was occupied. Every “free” man and woman was captured psychologically.
To Milosz, to the millions in central Europe, each day was a gift as the world was perpetually ending.
But the end never came.
…A Song on the End of the World.
By Czeslaw Milosz.