Tuesday, October 26, 2021

A New Toy for the Novelist

As the lab was so immaculate,
There was no chance of it being caught
Past its six-walled cube, lit from all walls.

Naturally, it had to be removed
With great care and deliberation.
Then it was released into the air,

Invisible to the naked eye,
The most elegant wisp of machine.
It had no intention to return,

Nor was it meant to. It flew. The world
Was all before it. It went to choose.
It chose, but it was a while before

Anyone knew. You can’t stop living
From dying, and there’s so many ways
People die, all the time, everywhere.

It takes a while for any new way
To make waves, unless it’s local plague.
This was not that. This was quieter.

This let everyone choose their own way,
And as some people choose their own way
Anyway, this wave didn’t make waves.

Then it did. Alarming statistics
Started coming out of one country,
Then another, then several others.

People across the spectrum of groups
That usually distinguish people
And their various ways of dying—

All genders, all ages, all classes,
All ethnicities, all professions
Common in any one location—

Were taking their own lives, carefully,
Methodically, and with forethought
But without waiting hesitantly.

The pattern was concise. There were notes,
But only practical instructions.
Lives were shut down like stores closing shop,

With some concern for safety, but not
With any self-dramatization,
Deep agonies, or publicity.

People were arranging their affairs
Quickly and quietly, then killing
Themselves more or less efficiently,

But almost always effectively.
There appeared to be no concurrent
Rise in the number of failed attempts,

To match the accomplished suicides,
And this spread across the world like wind,
Like the flu, like any pandemic.

Catastrophe for economies,
It had small effect on hospitals,
Simply easing demand a little,

Unlike truly parasitic plagues.
You couldn’t find anyone to ask,
Except those already so inclined,

And they fit the usual pattern,
While the spreading wave of departures
Had no idea they wanted to go

Until their going was in motion,
Then they went. The labor force collapsed.
The grief was impossible to stand.

A secondary wave of self-harm
Followed in serial aftershocks
Behind the first, confusing the two,

Although, before all the research stopped,
It became clear that there were two kinds—
Pragmatic self-elimination

Versus deaths of genuine despair.
But what did it matter? Death was death
And on a vast, surging, shoreless scale.

It rolled around the world, death on death,
Bringing other disasters with it,
Until the survivors came to this,

A world of tiny populations,
A few interconnected pockets,
Not much left working. Everyone left

Needs a new religion now, a faith
That makes sense of great waves of leaving,
But maybe it’s too late. More still go.

At this, the novelist checked her watch.
Enough for the day. She had her frame.
Tomorrow, flesh out protagonists.

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