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
“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
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
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
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
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
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.
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)