This is one of a series of poetic works I am currently writing. I’m trying to flit between prose/poetry/musical ways of expressing a similar idea; that of ‘approaching the end of civilisation’, and seeing it as something momentous, necessary, catastrophic, tragic or completely banal. This is a prose piece, which explains how ‘The End’ isn’t really an end at all, and doesn’t even really warrant capital letters. I hope you like it.
First, I took off my shoes.
My feet yawned into the grass, some shared memory hardened my soles, and harked back to the days when a green blanket covered the earth. The grass stretched between my toes and it was concrete and tar that began to feel foreign, unnecessary in that first tactile moment.
Next, my pockets emptied; ball point pens, a pocket calculator and myriad tissues fell from me – useless trappings of modernity, plastic infectious detritus. Today, it all had to go.
Yesterday a great movement passed through the earth; a fluttering, gentle earthquake, which flowed over and under all land. It moved through the cities of man, pulling down buildings and schools and power plants and prisons. Great cracks appeared, as if the planet was yawning from an aeon of boredom and disgust, and new forests and rivers seemed to spring from nowhere and spiral their way across her face.
Of course, there was panic. People were losing their homes, their jobs and their files, their mobile phones and safety razors. All the pieces of plastic, the electrically run distractions and the wallets stuffed with cards and cash were rendered useless overnight. Cars seemed to be the first to vanish, disappearing down chasms, which one could not see the bottoms of. Before we lost the televisions and the radio signals, a state of apocalyptic terror was announced, and the newsman wept on air, told us all to repent and to curl up and wait for god to pluck our souls from our quivering, de-instrumented forms. He was wrong, and the weather forecast was miles out. The sun was beating down on us here in London.
Of course, people died yesterday. Some died of illness, some died of old age. Some died of stupidity in roughly the same quantities they had done every day for at least a decade. There were the same accidents, and the same mistakes were made as they had always been. In the darkness, amongst the groans of new trees and the falling cities, people believed death had come to take us all.
However, today, people were being born. I slept fitfully under the wide leaves of a banana plant, one of many that sprung up at the top of the Old Kent Road, now devoid of it’s pizza takeaways and grotty pubs and plastic merchants. I awoke to a woman weeping and holding a newborn baby. Naked and pink and breathing it was, breathing sweeter air than any had here for ten generations. She wanted to call it Adam, but somebody told her to come up with something more original.
I saw a group of men in mud-stained business suits muttering about rebuilding a law firm, once the government had drained the marshland that was once Elephant and Castle. They had armed themselves with pathetic bits of wood, and wandered of into the still-growing jungle looking hopeless, lost and confused.
Next, I took off my clothes. There is shelter enough here, and warmth. The trees that sprang up over night will provide firewood, fruit and simple building materials. Perhaps they will forever. And anyway, what need do I have of these nylon skins? I peel of layer after layer, each falls to the floor and is lost amidst pillows of moss and sticks and the nests of birds and the twisting vines.
The canopy is rising; I look up to see a jackfruit tree burst open and spread its wings above me, and its harvest swell before my eyes. Over the rushing river, a cluster of giant sequoias was growing out of the redundant mass that was the wharf, mangrove forests spread as far as down to Greenwich, perhaps further – I could not tell. Naked and warm and silent, I climbed upwards to watch.
I saw people clustered around fires, security cases from the bank of England were broken into; some stuffed their pockets and ran, others fed the fire. More and more people were shedding their skins; taking off shirts and coats, dresses and trousers and underwear. Shoes were flung into trees, where they hanged like some sort of talisman from a forgotten age.
Some people were saying it was the end of the world, despairing at the loss of fast food, battery chickens, the internal combustion engine and daytime television. Any engine. Any television. They were saying that they would not last, that they could not survive. You could spot those people easily from here; they walked in straight lines where the roads once were, and wailed to a god they did not believe in, their hands in the air, blindly brushing past more food than they could ever eat.
Some were saying it was not the end of the world, but the beginning. That another race was coming, or coming back to take over from us; that mankind’s time was over, and too much damage had been done.
But I saw a child born this morning as the sun rose, amongst the greenest leaves and richest crops I’d never seen before. I have seen people sit around fires of money and cry into each other’s faces and eat together and laugh at the idea of original sin.
I know that this is not an end, or a beginning.
This is a reminder.