What Grounds We Stand On

After spending last month home in the States, I’m back in London now, fielding versions of “So, are things as bad as they seem over there?” bundled neatly into casual conversation. I tell myself this kind of check-in is only natural. It’s a friendly attempt to compare feeds and timelines, walls and headlines against what should be my eyewitness account from inside the calamity.

But most of the time, I’m at a loss for how to respond. Whatever I murmur rarely satisfies; and my replies are inevitably marbled with civics lessons, talk of American myths and complicity, my confessing to relatives’ voting histories. And truthfully, if it could somehow lift us past our wincing and shrugs and head-shaking, I’d humbly defer to Rebecca Solnit because this is how things are, everywhere:

There are no words in the native languages for the new birds arriving in the warming far North…Chunks of Antarctic ice shelf the size of small European nations are falling into the sea, which is rising enough to threaten the very existence of some of the small islands in the world and the cultures of those islands…There are nightmarish things at large, and it is not my purpose to deny them. What are the grounds of hope in this world of wrecks?

That I’ve come to know those last two sentences by heart isn’t a surprise. Even if we never say them aloud and even if you’ve never encountered Solnit’s “Doubt,” I’ve learned they are here, nested in our off-hand chatter.

More honesty: I’m listening to that ending couplet as critical conscience and guide when I read. Not sure if that makes sense, exactly, but I’m following her lead into writing that owns up to catastrophe and which refuses to forgo the miraculous.

When Collier Nogues confronts the aftermaths of war and colonialism, when she asks “who is still paying, for my sense of safety…and in what currency?” with her erasures, I trust that the work of navigating our world of wrecks goes on because it must. When Matthew Olzmann gives thanks for the “deep black / against the regular black / of the night,” when Valerie Duff divines a spectral, shared “nothing there,” when Rebecca Gayle Howell braves loss with the rumble of “A Love Supreme,” I hear grounds for hope. Which is to say, Solnit opens a way for me to see the poems of this Dispatch (and perhaps our impulse to continue with Tongue at all) as reminders of what sustains us, what can too-often be left invisible, and what we fight to keep alive.