In Their Own Words

Laura Cresté on “Poem for My Children Born During the Sixth Extinction”

Poem for My Children Born During the Sixth Extinction

The first things kids learn in school are the seasons.
By now they already know their colors, maybe even their last names.
My children will learn hurricane and wildfire. It is summer and then it is winter.

They won’t know the sweet weeks of early June, honeysuckle,
wearing a sundress without sweat pooling behind a knee.
Maybe even a little cold at night.

They might not know bumblebees, not personally.
Polar bears they’ll read about like dinosaurs.
We’ll still have the old-fashioned disasters, a broken elbow, split lip.

I’ll try not to scare them, but when I see them eating unwashed grapes
I’ll tell them about pesticides. One will forget but the other won’t eat fruit for years.
When they ask if I believe in heaven I will lie.

When they’re little I want them to feel safe.
When they’re older I want them to believe their bones
will lie dumb in the earth forever. This is your one life.

They’ll want to know what their parents did before they were born
We had dinner parties. Traveled a little, not enough.
Read our friends’ books. Had a dog they won’t remember

but will pretend to, and too many plants.
Water-damaged the windowsill and lost our deposit.
When our spider plant mothered into twelve stalks, we potted them,

called them the spiderettes. They were supposed to be housewarming
gifts, but we didn’t know twelve people moving. We tried
not using too much plastic, not eating too much meat. It didn’t matter.

We knew our children’s lives would get worse every year.
We thought they might like to be here anyway,
to give them oceans, ice cream, optic nerves, the flowers, and all their names.

On "Poem for My Children Born During the Sixth Extinction"

This is the closing poem in my chapbook, You Should Feel Bad, and the last one I wrote for the collection, in the summer of 2018, while working at an office job I didn’t like, reading about record-breaking heat waves and wildfires, and feeling an acute sense of dread.

Just to briefly clarify: I’m not a mother, but the question of whether to have children has preoccupied me for years. I feel I’d owe them the likelihood that our planet will be a pleasant, habitable place for a timeline that extends past my own life. And I don’t have that certainty at all. Still, I keep looking for someone to give me permission to do the thing I want to do, mostly by polling friends. Here, by projecting myself into an imagined future, I’m no longer agonizing about the decision to have children; in the poem, they’re already here.

In real life, I managed to find one person to give a spider plant offshoot to, but not twelve. I bought the first plant for $1 at the Union Square farmers’ market a week before my 26th birthday, and it rapidly grew in sort of an overwhelming way. Until recently my partner and I had so many plants in our Brooklyn apartment that it felt like a terrarium. Pothos vines sometimes attached themselves to the walls. There was always condensation on the windows. Then when the coronavirus struck New York, we ended up leaving abruptly, to stay at a family house in Massachusetts, abandoning most of our plants to die. So that was an unlucky end to a plant I cared about. I still don’t have a dog.

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