They keep saying this might be the coolest summer of the rest of our lives. We’ll keep salting our watermelon slices and buying the same freezer pops while Antarctica loses another trillion tons of ice. Animals that are the last of their kind are sometimes nicknamed “Lonesome,” as in Lonesome George, the Hawaiian Tree Snail, and Lonesome George, the Pinta Island Tortoise. They are also called endlings. We’ll grill corn alongside the beer-soaked brats and hamburger patties. When the husks start to blacken, give them a turn. Scientists keep the deceased in a cupboard they call the Death Cabinet. There are only 75 Javan Rhinos left. On the Fourth of July, it’s the Charles B. Wheeler Airport, the Blue Angels in diamond formation, chemtrails, and heat shimmering on the tarmac. By nightfall, every neighborhood hazy with the smoke of Black Cats and Roman candles. The skies a riot of stars, bursts of antimony sulfide, perchlorates, arsenic. Animals flee the sound, birds abandon their nests. Hawksbill turtles’ variegated shells are prized for things like eyeglass frames, combs, decorative boxes and Japanese shamisens. I feel a special affinity for turtles; they were my first spirit animal. The summer my grandmother died, I began to see them everywhere. Box turtles I had to move out of the road. Red-eared pond sliders sunning themselves on the rocks. Baby painted turtles on park trails that could fit in my palm. As we cleaned out my grandmother’s house, I found a silver turtle charm. Many cultures say that turtles carry the Earth on their backs, holding the world in balance. They carry their homes on
their backs. They carry us. This is our home. Our guts birth the same constellations of microplastics. Around the Earth, the universe is cooling. We no longer feel the interstellar waters in which we swim. Summer solstice is the longest day of the year, the Earth prostrating itself before the sun, absorbing heat into its oceans and atmosphere. Time of bonfires and flower crowns. Time to fling open doors to other realms. But we can no more be separated from Earth than a turtle from its shell. What do you call the homesickness for a world that’s never been? My soul is like the cooling universe, expanding and contracting. As the seasons change, grills become bowls of coal ash, the cornhusks in the compost heap, the streets littered with spent firework tubes. Rain’s been rendered undrinkable and even wild ginger tea cannot relieve this stomachache. One day, the last aster will bloom. One day, the last pine needle will drop from its bough. To mankind’s future endling, I’m so sorry. I wish you could’ve known the taste of potato salad. It was delicious.
My uncles all had prison tattoos: crosses, praying hands,
sacred heart Jesus, la Virgen de Guadalupe,
la Anima Sola. I wonder if they used ballpoint pens,
melted Styrofoam, soot mixed with shampoo,
or something even more crude, just asking for infection,
hepatitis, HIV. One of those uncles has died. He’d been
the last to relinquish his criminal ways, had spent
the better part of four decades behind bars, but in this,
he was foremost among his brothers, in this, the last
was indeed the first. I’ll admit, it was his face I often pictured
whenever, in religious instruction, the nuns referred
to the unnamed thieves. In the casket, he wears a suit.
His grandchildren lean over the sides and poke at him,
fascinated by his new hollowness, while I wonder what his ink
must look like now, how the iconography must have faded
beneath his wool and linen sleeves, how they constituted
his last earthly garments just as much as double-breasted
pinstripes; how the children were right, that we were viewing
an empty vessel, a gourd lacquered in cellblock blue,
and what awaits it all, what comes of all stories writ in skin.
We sleep in separate bedrooms now;
not because our marriage is in trouble,
but mainly because he snores
loud enough that I expect the roof to rise and fall
like something out of an old cartoon,
a high, whiny vibrato, like a cheap Kawasaki.
Our sleep styles are fundamentally incompatible.
I sleep hot and he sleeps cold.
I toss and turn and he is immobile.
I am a night owl and he falls asleep before nine.
In the post meridiem hours,
my post-menopausal body flirts with going nova
like the dying star that it is,
and I wake up soaked in sweat.
And I have to sleep with a pillow between my knees
to keep spine and pelvis aligned, and I have to
have white noise and a sleep mask and a fan,
and I wake up at odd hours to jot down scraps of poems,
and I talk in my sleep, and I walk in my sleep,
and nightmares and night terrors can start me up
screaming at any time, and I have long bouts of insomnia,
and no bedroom should be this dysfunctional.
I can’t tell if I am beloved of Nyx
or reviled by her,
every night the opposite of repose,
every dawn an aftermath.
I am getting used to it now,
sleeping alone, and I don’t like it.
People talk about their partners being away
and how they enjoy having their bed to themselves,
lying with their limbs outstretched
in the skydiving position,
but I never do that.
Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is a writer of fiction and poetry, and an associate editor at Gleam. Her recent titles are Requiem for a Robot Dog, and Languages, First and Last. She has had over 200 publications in literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the SFFP Speculative Poetry Contest (Honorable Mention), the Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest (Finalist), and the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize (Winner). Her work has also received multiple Best of the Net, Pushcart Prize, and Rhysling Award nominations, as well as a Grindsploitation Festival nomination for best song. She lives in Kansas City, MO. www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com