After the Catastrophe

I know we’re meant to live
in the minute, but what if
that minute snatches us
too sharply, what if we fear
getting caught in it?

I do not like the knife
lying on the carriage floor, waiting.

I do not like how
at each station, new people rise
and say This is us.

As if each stop defines them.

Twelve black swans unfurl their wings as a man
waves from a boat called The Gambler.
All strung together by glances.

But what if we made up
that man, those swans,
the boat called The Gambler?
What if we made this entire train,
each fact our eyes quiver past?

After a catastrophe some are
calm the worst is gone.
New people rise
and say This is us.

Alice Miller is the author of three collections of poetry, What Fire (Liverpool University Press, 2021), Nowhere Nearer, and The Limits, as well as a novel, More Miracle than Bird (Tin House, 2020). She grew up in Māhina Bay and Te Whanganui-a-Tara, and studied at Victoria University, the International Institute of Modern Letters, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Berlin.

Miller comments: 'I drafted this poem on a train heading up the Kāpiti coast, struck by the sheer amount of matter passing outside the windows, as well as flickering past on everyone’s phones and tablets. It seemed excessive; how could anyone be expected to make sense of it all? The book this poem comes from, What Fire, asks questions about catastrophes, and our culpability for these catastrophes. How we assemble information leads us to strange and disturbing conclusions. Our day-to-day utterances—like "this is us"—can be unthinking declarations of power. Living in our current moment (as well as living in Berlin, the same city from which my Jewish grandmother once had to flee), these questions only feel more and more pressing. Who says when and what is "after" a catastrophe?'

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Alice Miller's website

What Fire at Unity Books in New Zealand; Audiatur in Norway; Liverpool University Press in the UK; Oxford University Press in the USA; and Dussmann in Germany