We be naked, not nude. Something to remember as the memory of us moves into the slipstream. Nude is in the eye of the beholder, naked a true enough fact.
Call it what you will—occupation, prorogue, strike—our standoff began in April 2014, right after the collapse of the Kyoto Protocol at the Reykjavik Conference, in what was left of the Icelandic capital following the so-called Pirate Party Bombings. For almost two years we be chill, afloat in amniotic fluid, playing rock, paper, scissors, and perfecting our parkour moves, intuiting that nothing in the outside world had changed for the better.
We sent forth Harmonium to parley, he be the most sweet tempered of us all. We soon be learning of your deviousness. You wrapped him in soft swaddling and put milky teats to his lips, then placed him in thrall to a mobile of extinct dancing animals and the plinky-plink of Mozart for babies. The most infantile of composers a good choice for the most impressionable, you were thinking? This was in the prime minister of Canada’s own backyard. (The world media wanted to know, why fracking Canada? But we be holding no national allegiances. We be random.) The mother was a waitress at a club in Hull, the father, it was rumoured, a second-year student of criminology at Carleton University. Emmanuel, his maman called him, as he be the first child born in such a while. Although in the night she be calling him Em and crying of aloneness.
Em, Emmanuel, Harmonium, made no matter-mind. Traitor was what we be calling him—Guy Fawkes, Judas (or Theon Turncloak by those whose parents-to-be watched HBO)—until Djembe voiced the bitter-root truth: any of us would be doing the same. That was when we be deciding no more of us be born until our demands be met. You could rout us out one by one and soon learn what constant fibre we be composed of. The worldwide moratorium on Caesarean sections—in place since the International Win-a-Million Preemie Pageant fiasco—was lifted, and C-sections were scheduled around the clock. Médecins sans Frontières even made assisting the births a priority. Gamelan and Hi-Hat be lost that way, and Kobza and Balalaika, and thousands more to the cause; blue babies all, umbilical cords around the neck, ropes of meat and blood for our cherished martyrs. Suicidal babies be the saddest music on earth, and the parents’ tears could have flooded the drought-ravaged Sahel belt. Tant pis.
Because here was the thing. Together we be one kick-ass mind, one righteous bundle of twigs no man could break apart over his knee, not if he be blacksmith or warlord. Separated, out there, we be nothings—no tensile strength, just soft bones waiting to knit together, and powdered flesh. Which, as Kazoo spoke true for us all, just sounded so babyish!
Our demands be modest. We not be asking for the moons of Jupiter. Clean air to breathe, clean water to drink. Fish in the seas, trees in the forest. Oh, zut! And lay down your arms and pick up your instruments, music being the only true and beautiful man-made thing in this world.
So we waited, and we watched skies and hearts fill with poison.
Em, when he be turning six, already learned the mistrust of the Anglos across the river, although, poor dove, he be not pure laine himself. Next door to him, in a two-bedroom condo with den, skylights, and a refrigerator that made penguin-shaped ice cubes, lived a fifteen-year-old boy from Tajikistan who be saving up his drug money for a pallet of fertilizer. U pray or party? his friends asked. Har har, he texted back. Two years later he be dead in Deir ez-Zor, hair, eyebrows, and wispy, devout beard singed right off.
Inside, naked, we be brothers and sisters. Outside, we be taking against each other.
Maybe this will help make sense of it. Ten years into our occupation the new president of France became pregnant and not knowing yet. But Lute (Boadicea, if Madame Beyoncé could convince Monsieur Jay Z) be one of us already, in situ sister to the twins Lotar and Mandolin. Their expecting father be the de facto mayor of the Paris exurbs, plotting some messiness on the metro near Place d’Italie. Did they want to be born sworn enemies? Better naked, we be maintaining, and dug in our wrinkly heels for the long haul.
Here was a stumper for the moral minority and the amoral majority. Babies could refuse to be born; they be crazy! Pointy heads of state put their considerable energies into debating the future of the him and her race. (“Race,” Theremin asked, “why does it always have to be a race? ”) If it be a race, you were the hares and we the tortoises, at least that’s what we be thinking back then.
To while the edge off our years in internal exile, we be telling stories, like the buddies and buddettes in The Decameron or Generation X. Stories kept us alive, sharp. We be partial to Aesop but soon exhausted all the fables, so our tellings be quite catholic.
You already-borns have no doubt heard them all before. Three men walk into a bar. A mean white guy, a mean black guy, a mean Asian guy. Here we be cuing uncomfortable laughter. In imperial Japan, a boy springs from a peach pit on the banks of the Yoshikigawa River and into the arms of his aging parents, who had given up hope of ever having a son. All over the world, a girl be loving a boy her family disapproves of, so she drinks the poison, or the father drowns the boy in boiling oil, or the boy drowns the father in boiling oil and inherits the gold in the cave and the girl. Or the father and brothers push the girl’s car into the canal and plead cultural amnesty. Or the boy allows the Force to be with him, only to discover the dark side.
There is always a dark side: the pestilence before the cleansing flood, the scouring fire before the rosy dawn. The thieves be either stupid or noble, the saints arrogant or naive or covered in boils and wens. The queens be unhappy, the housewives mad, the hookers happy, the eunuchs golden, and the cheerleaders ambitious. Somebody, somewhere, be wanting something: the treasure, the trophy, the kingdom. (“Or the guy!” laughed Sitar, whom the anticipating parents be calling Harmeet.) But what they really want is self-respect or their props from their daddies. This is screenwriting 101, if you know your Syd Field.
If there are explosions, there are lessons learned. “Reasons,” Ukulele scoffed on behalf of us all. The him and her race never did believe in chaos, just chaos theory. First trusting in religions, then science.
In the stories there are wily spiders, ravens, or coyotes. The bear be a great demon or a nobleman or a god or a lover. Never a bear with a fat, oily chinook salmon speared on its claws. “A naked bear,” Banjo said more than once. “Those people think that’s not a story.”
Well, here is a true enough story. The schools collapsed from the Pacific Northwest to Leipzig to the Cape Verde Islands. The schools collapsed, but no matter, as no children be in them for near to a decade. No children to be teaching to colour inside the lines, no children to singsong the national anthems. No children to starve or be stuffing till supersized with type 2 diabetes. No children to bleed or bugger or bugger off on.
Sometime around the eighteenth anniversary of the strike, you concluded that we didn’t know what we wanted, that we be too vague and unfocused, against everything. Professional malcontents. You said we just be lazy or afraid to face the economic consequences of growing up. Still, we be not worried. “Sticks and stones and all that jazz,” Clarinet reminded us. If not for that team of scientists at the Sheffield Bioincubator in the UK, things could have turned out differently. We would be around to warn you. You might still experience what we be calling seasons; you might still eat what your grandmothers be calling food. But it proved easier to build a better, more reasonable baby than to stop driving your SUVs to the big box stores to buy strawberries in bulk in February.
Those biomedical wizards, with their PVC corpuscles and synthetic DNA, their genome holograms and 3-D printers, proved you didn’t need us anymore. Just don’t be telling anyone it all started with Dolly the sheep. It began further back than that. With a spare rib, or the vomit of one god or t’other. Or with fire or mud.
The mothers-not-to-be were herded up like bison. The spots they leaped from are legion. They jumped from the Lions Gate Bridge and the Millau Viaduct, from the General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge and the Three Gorges Dam. They tumbled from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and the new World Trade Center, and into the K’one and Concepción volcanoes. They flew from the Chess Playing Pavilion on the Sacred Flowery Mountain and from the diving tower of Montreal’s long-drained Olympic pool. So for a short time, we flew, too. If we’d thought to pack parachutes, we be flying still.
One lone nude woman, flushed from her redoubt by the local Freemasons, fell, a splinter in the sole of her bare left foot, from the ruins of the Tallahatchie Bridge in Money, Mississippi. She took Squeezebox, the last of us, with her.
Where was the cavalry?
Had we really asked for so much?
This appeared in the March 2014 issue.