All memory is convulsed in an upheaval of violence. There is a fire burning over the Earth, taking with it plants and animals, cultures, languages, ancient skills and visionary wisdom. Quelling this flame and reinventing the poetry of diversity is the most important challenge of our time. (Wade Davis, 1999, p. 279)
When I woke up this morning, I notice that an anthology of William Blake’s poetry is burning on my bookshelf. Strangely, the small electric blue flame doesn’t give off any heat. I go to take it off of the shelf with my bare hand and it just turns into ashes. Suddenly, other books burst into flames as well: Great Expectations, Tao Te Ching, The Cinnamon Peeler, and Arabian Nights. Curiously, my computer books, self-help books, business strategy books, and technical reference manuals are all left unscathed.
Little fires have broken out in scattered locations throughout my house. Writing paper, family photographs, journals, sheet music, bone china cups, beeswax candles, and dried herbs all turn into ashes and dust before my eyes. The television set, laptop, DVD player, microwave, and iPod are all unharmed.
I step out into the street, and see that the Victorian heritage house next door is going up in smoke. So are its antique rose bushes in the walled garden. In a daze, I wander through the streets of the town. The woman’s shelter, hospital, and elementary school are all ablaze. The library, church, museum, used bookshop, and family owned Hungarian restaurant are gone without a trace. But Walmart, Starbucks, Rogers Video, and the Chamber of Commerce are still standing; their doors are wide open for business.
In the window of an appliance store, there is a big screen television broadcasting a news program. There is video footage of what they’re calling the “Great Conflagration” all over the world. A village is hidden behind a wall of fire. A female environmentalist is wreathed in flames. A tiger, its fur crackling with electrical fire, is leaping into a burning river. The surfaces of the world’s oceans are lit from beneath, in breathtaking beauty, as the flesh is being burnt from the bones of enormous and graceful beasts.
Lying in the doorway, there’s a homeless woman asking me if I have an extra cigarette. I reach into my pocket and go to hand her one, but she suddenly flares up before my eyes, and then she’s gone. In the storefront, the news program is over and it is followed by America’s Top Model. I can’t help watching to see who will be eliminated today.
Davis, W. (1999). Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire. Broadway.
Dickens, C. (2001). Great Expectations. Dover Publications.
Haddawy, H. (ed.) (1992). Arabian Nights. Translated by Muhsin Mahdi. Everyman’s Library.
Ondaatje, M. (1997). The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems. Vintage.
Tzu, Lao (1988). Tao Te Ching. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. 1st ed. HarperCollins.