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Thinking about the Future on the Day the Clocks Fall Back, November 3, 2019

In English we deal with the future by using nine helping verbs called the modals: will, shall, can, could, would, should, may, might and must. Only will will ever happen; all the others are possibilities, the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas of the world. Every main verb has three principal parts. To walk has its base form, walk, and two participles, walking and walked. For the simple future, English will put will in front of the base form, walk; it doesn’t matter who the subject is: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, and they will walk. In Spanish in the future to walk (caminar) changes with every subject: (I) caminaré, (you) caminerás, (he, she it) caminerá, (we) caminaremos, (you) caminaréis, and (they) caminarán (will walk). English in this regard is much simpler than any of the Romance languages.

What is the future? Do we look forward to it with hope or with dread? Is it our well made plans or a hurricane coming at us? Are we ever there yet? Is it my hands typing the words as fast as you can read them? Or kittens being born, squeezed out of their mother, licked and glistening? Perhaps it’s coming down the steps, looking down into the living room where there is a party going on, everything happening at once, while you, your hand on the banister, the precipice, the edge are kept from falling into this abyss because you aren’t everything, nor are you there yet: all you are allowed, it seems, is to be taking one more step into the next.

Today is Sunday. It’s morning. We are an hour later, which means the sun comes up sooner, at six instead of seven. At six the sun will rise. Now the sun is rising. If you haven’t already, you may begin.

I wrote the following sonnet after Hurricane Sandy, perhaps on this very day, seven years ago, which is in the past, of course, but Sandy was certainly in the future while we waited for her.

The sky is blue, the clouds are white, the birds
Fly in and the birds fly out of sight in
My window five stories up, my building
so recently surrounded by water.
Cars floated by and two boys died quickly
Crushed by a mighty falling limb, the hand
Of God some people said. Sea took the land.
Our street swelled smelled of sea and was the sea.
A hundred houses burned in Queens. Power
Is off. Some walk the streets looking to see
A place to charge their cellphones or food to eat
Just like the cave men did. How much are
We worth? Garbage the car, the man, the bus
When the hurricane comes and covers us.

The night of Hurricane Sandy:

Thinking about hope and an Emily Dickinson poem.

Today, especially with climate change, there is a lot of despair about the future. When I was a kid, we feared nuclear war, that was our end, but today with the idea of rising water things seem even worse. But is there always hope? In the early 1990s, I helped take care of a friend who was dying of AIDS, and there was no hope, but shortly after my friend died, there was hope, and today people with AIDS can stay alive.

If you are like me, when I think of hope, I think of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” which I love and yet have mixed feelings about. It’s good to memorize the first stanza to exercise the brain, and that is always hopeful.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

The poem is written in tetrameter (And sings the tune without the words), which you might say are eight syllables or eight accents (short, long, soft, loud, soft, hard) (da Dah da Dah da Dah da Dah) or four feet, and trimeter (And never stops at all), which you might say are six syllables or six accents (da Dah da Dah da Dah) or three feet.

The first line, the tetrameter, is missing one syllable, or half a foot, although the last word, a plural word, feathers, is given extra weight in the long sound of its final syllable thers—an important thing those feathers.

Listening for rhyme is an accessible exercise. There are near rhymes at the end of each line in the first stanza: feathers/words, soul/all. The next stanza follows with much closer rhymes.

And sweetest in the gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

That little word abash (to make somebody bashful, quiet) has within its gentle confines the word bash: the word is its own oxymoron, outside the gentleness, inside the violence.

The third stanza is interesting.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet never in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I like the last stanza’s scheme: sea, extremity and me all rhyming; but then one realizes that the chillest land, which is an extreme in itself, connects in that sense with the other three, and land and sea are each other’s extremity as well. Even the adjective chillest is an extreme way of saying chilliest. Everything is rhyming and connecting with extremity followed by me, the last word: I who can go no further than the end of my own fingers. But when I hope, do I go beyond myself? No, hope may fly away never asking one crumb of me, but ultimately I’m stuck to ask the question, “Is hope a useful bird or a useless one?” when the ship is sinking and I am going, “Glub! Glug! Glub!”

Anyway, simply thinking without a thought for tomorrow can be fun.

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