How to Survive the End of the World

after the Brown sisters’ podcast



By Maanasi Shyno

Art by Maanasi Shyno


This is a set of visionary fiction poems focusing on living in the aftermath of apocalypse. What do we keep? What is cursed? What allows for survival and what ensures death?

Imagining apocalypse as origin rather than end, I document approaches I have found useful in our current fractured world, drawing from Audre Lorde, Octavia E. Butler, adrienne maree brown, and Autumn Brown.



When the world turned over

And was buried beneath itself

It was still you who absorbed the shockwaves

And when we began materializing a new beginning

It was still you who laid the first brick

—---

If my kaṟutta nāv is to bring calamity

So be it

I will speak the end into existence

With my teeth I will tear a new page

With this wretched voice, begin the next verse

—---

in the background of the white man's worst nightmare

it is us who ring in apocalypse

it is us who declare the beginning

re:construction

“look what you have done!!” she cries

around us the world is in shambles

and there is a hammer in my hand

i do not remember anything at all

buildings have collapsed and we are enveloped in dust

could this be my doing?

my vision focuses first on a drill

then the cracked pavement beneath my feet

certainly, i could not have done this alone

there’s a mesh orange vest under my boot

i wring it out and slip my arms through it

and i suddenly see:

this is a construction site

i tell her such and she wants to hear none of it

in her eyes my hammer could not be for building

destruction could not be part of reconstruction

from my lips a past voice emerges

everything can be used

except what is wasteful

she is still screaming but i hand her a saw

and hold steady the first plank of wood

slowly, we begin to build the world anew

the window

on the eleventh day you pass an unbroken window

these days you must call them unbroken

because more are shattered than not

a window’s definition of being

has completely changed in this era

now windows can only be understood as

things through which we could see

both inward and outward of structures

the window sits on the side of a four-story building

its view is unforgiving: yet another gray complex

but you can see that it lets the light in

and imagine at some point there might have been flowers growing in that trellis

perhaps for someone this was hopeful

a little bit of life growing in an unyielding gray city

but was it worth it?

when the blast came, the window was not shattered

likely because the alley it faces shielded it

turned inwards, it only suffered some heavy dust

in some ways it is beautiful

the window gleams with the innocence of a thing

that does not know the destruction around it

but the light it reflects is simultaneously glaring

its neighbors have been broken

if not by the blast then by bats and gunshots

by the fright of a species at its end

this window untouched

is in this way

criminal

a remnant of a rotten world now torn apart

you’re standing in some concrete rubble

straining your neck to look through this window

into a past you have sworn off

an unbroken window does not belong in this world

so you do the next wandering soul a favor

you pick up a heavy stone, and with all your force

shatter it



the wire

today the scavengers have brought a wire back to camp

imagining it can be reused for security or attack

their palms are bleeding

cut wrestling it from the grips of a wreckage

its barbs glisten silver and red


we tend to our friends’ wounds

but the sight of blood incites a question

what is this wire’s history?

some say its past matters no more than our own

others say our past matters a great deal


the past, the past

there is no medium among us to discern the truth

so we put our hands on the wire together

and jerk away, burned by a thousand histories

an internment camp, a border wall, a master’s tool


these memories passed through our hands

we face the question of our survival

we face each other

the master’s house is demolished

who can question our use of its dismembered remains?


someone brings a bolt cutter and pumice stone

together we cut and sand and twist and reinvent

we bloody our palms in covenant, patch the wounds

whatever terrible reality manifests

it will be ours to handle



in community

one woman’s go-bag saved all our lives

she’d packed it before the Bad arrived

it had a water filter that made life bearable

she got the idea from Octavia’s parables


another person was the child of facilitators

they taught skills for Then and for later

he learned from them how to lead conversation

we used their techniques to build a world post-nation


someone else loved doing garden work Before

another person was on the park ranger corps

together they taught us to gather and grow

their combined efforts fed us through winter snow


you were the sister of a poet

who taught you to reimagine, to forfeit

we used poetry as an instrument for change

we created to envision, we created to rearrange


everyone has a skill to bring

an item of value, a helpful thing

through community is how we can thrive

only through community will you survive



Dear friend,


Twenty five years after the End, we are thriving.


On the first few days all we could do was sweep up the dust. Beneath the dust, it was just the land that was left. We found it robust and ready: this planet is resilient. And so were we. This is not to say we went “back” to greener times. After all, there is no backwards, there is only towards. Rather, we witnessed the world come to the beginning of a natural cycle.


The next few days we spent imagining, ruminating on inter-being, on our needs. We held the universe in our hands, a smashed geode, rings of sedimented history, of time, encircling a sparkly core. This reality was forecasted, and so was the next. The linear became circular. The cracks became moments of unity. We bundled the universe together and reorganized it into a mosaic.


The next few weeks after that we began to build. We built what was never really here. We built things differently. We adapted. Despite all that was gone, the radical and liberatory practices of the past remained and salvaged us. We were lucky we had among us facilitators, farmers, builders, and poets. When the end repeats itself, hold your visionaries and organizers close.


I write all of this to say change is chaos, but change is clay. It can be molded, shaped. See how this change has changed us. Let it change you. Let it dispel any myth that apocalypse is an end. Apocalypse is a conjunction of crises unaddressed, revealing interlocking structural oppressions, revealing the interconnectedness of the struggle. It is a violent potential that exists, always, ever-present in the atmosphere. Light a dozen matches and it will catch aflame. If the world must burn, let it. And watch it recover. Watch us regrow.


With love,

maanasi





Notes:


Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury, ” in Sister Outsider : Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg: Crossing Press, 1984).


Audre Lorde, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House,” in Sister Outsider : Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg: Crossing Press, 1984).


Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” in Sister Outsider : Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg: Crossing Press, 1984).


Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown, How to Survive the End of the World, Podcast Audio, December 9, 2013–present, https://www.endoftheworldshow.org/.


Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (New York: Warner Books, 1995).

Walidah Imarisha, “Introduction,” in Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements (AK Press/IAS, 2015)