Jeannine Hall Gailey Infuses Humor into Post-Apocalyptic Poems
With a substantial percentage of the nation in a state of political discontent, poet Jeannine Hall Gailey offers if not a remedy at least a soothing balm by way of her latest poetry collection, Field Guide to the End of the World (Moon City Press). Hall’s verse mourns for humanity’s losses and for the planet’s brighter days. Entrenched in an atmosphere of chaos and decay, these poems will especially resonate with readers grappling with personal struggles like the loss of a loved one, the demise of a relationship, a crisis in faith, or tribulation and isolation resulting from illness. However, Field Guide to the End of the World isn’t an assemblage of “doom and gloom” verse. This remarkable collection highlights the sheer determination to beat the odds by delving into one of humankind’s basic instincts: survival. Along the way, Hall satirizes some of the shallow values and empty rituals our pop culture promotes. Tongue-in-cheek humor is present in poems like Martha Stewart’s Guide to Apocalypse Living, A Narcissist’s Apocalypse, and Letter to John Cusack Piloting a Plane in an Apocalypse Movie. Stark in its honesty and often whimsical in its approach, Field Guide to the End of the World challenges readers to take stock and reevaluate the importance of family and friends and respect for the natural world. Poet Sandra Beasley, author of Count the Waves and I Was the Jukebox, hits the nail on the head: “These poems are mesmerizing in their music, their humor, and their eye for the exact right details to inspire hope while acknowledging ruin.”
But It Was an Accident
Yes, I was the one who left out the open petri dishes of polio
and plague next to the plate of pasta.
I leaked the nuclear codes, the ones on giant floppy disks from 1982.
I fell asleep at the button. I ordered tacos and turned out the lights.
How was I to know that someone was waiting for the right time?
I thought the radio was saying "Alien attack"
and headed for the fallout shelter, failing to feed the dogs.
I followed evacuation plans. I just followed orders.
I was the pilot of the bomber, I was the submarine captain,
I steered into the iceberg. I held the scalpel but I was shaking.
I was the one in charge. I was on the red phone saying "Do it" decisively.
I always imagined writing propaganda; how could I possibly see
what was coming when they dropped the fliers,
when the angry mobs began choking people in the street?
I was always good at creating a panic.
I never saw the Ferris wheel start its fatal roll.
I looked away just as the plane plummeted,
as the building burned. I shook my head at disaster, afraid to meet.
It was just an accident. It was fate. It was never my hand on the wheel.
When you point fingers, point them towards the empty sky.
Post-Apocalypse Postcard from an American Girl
Back in her childhood bedroom, she can't decide what to pack – the Tom Petty and Elvis records, her ticket stubs from American Idol? Ancient icons – the flag, her baton, her majorette costume – seem less useful now than Tupperware, aspirin, Bactine and Band-Aids. She longed for her mother to tell her once again what to do – not to wear her bangs too long, or her skirt too short. Not to wear too much lipstick. She was thankful for her lessons from summer camp – cooking eggs in a skillet over a fire, learning to shoot a shotgun at seven, and her aim was still true despite skinny arms. She could still sing the Star Spangled Banner with the best of them. Beneath the wild eyes of her faded toy horses, the blank grey faces of dead television sets, she dreams once more of a little more life, somewhere else. She ties the laces of her rollerblades tight, determined for once to do much more than survive.
The Last Love Poem
I am obsolete as my ancestors, the Appalachian glass blowers,
provoking fire over and over to produce their artifacts.
I knew no writing could survive when we started calling children "vectors,"
when our own forests grew heavy with toxic spores.
A map? A list? A series of images? What could I write now
that would do anything? A poem orphaned, a crystalline ornament
with no Christmas in sight, swirled with delicate color, resting
gently on a ledge until the inevitable smash...
So here in my last moments, let me set down my memories of you:
your rough skin, your green eyes, your slightly clumsy hands.
We turned and smiled at each other on the ugly concrete glinting with broken glass
as someone yelled obscenities and someone else handed out pizza slices to strangers
When we ran out of flour, we learned to bake cookies out of nuts, seeds, flowers.
We decided, against all odds, to plant dahlias.
Do you see this as a rebellion? That after all this, the poet clings, stubborn,
to romance, to the idea that somehow a small connection,
a tiny universe of fire and friction, might be preserved?
Epilogue – Or, A Story for After
I want to tell you a story about how we survived the end of the world. Crouched around a dying fire, I illustrate with shadow puppets the old, beat-up van, the velocity of water and sky, the unnamable odds against us. What really sells it? The way the ending goes on forever, moon ebbing closer to the mysterious dark, its craggy face calling out, the skies scattered with falling stars. The way objects are nearer than they appear. You next to me, and I remind you – here is where we used to be, here is where we are. I draw a line in the dirt with a fork and draw a picture – a house made of a square and a triangle, a single daisy in the yard, and two smiling stick figures. This is what we dreamed of, the day we awaited has arrived. There are no more shotguns or dusty trails lined with diseased corpses. A ship arrives on top of a mountain, heralded by doves; an airplane lands on another planet, seatmates dazed by the lack of gravity. We might teach the dragons to dance, learn the alchemy of soil again, rebuild libraries with tales of fantastic voyage. All I need right now is you, the simple weight of your hand, the warmth of your breath, and this last cup of coffee to tell me – we are miraculous.