05 Nov Kelsey Gray
And there were ten plagues, each more awful than the next until some prince died, if that some prince existed, and doors were marked with lamb’s blood, maybe this is why I am a vegetarian. And I am telling you ten belly aches, some more grandiose than the others, but still, passing moments of kicking it on this earth, this alternating cesspool / rainbow, unrelenting horror-scape / undeniable artistry. My plague, one of them, is the feeling of inaction that threatens to still me; ever encroaching doubt slinking in from quiet recesses and gulf-sized churning bays inside myself, steering my mind, shaking my hands, whispering that it doesn’t matter so stop and lay yourself quietly. Don’t write, nobody will read. Don’t draw, nobody will see. You don’t want anybody to see. And to make for your own sake, what luxury, what a polished and corrupt use of time. The time you have that others may not, spent playing with pens, spent weaving poems on screens that blink back lambent apathy. Languor, dullness, apathy egregious and grievous and supposedly a footnote to the millennial selfie. The heavy lidded Apathy Aesthetic of generations born into a late capitalist, pŏşťmœđeērñe world simmering culture in the pressure cooker of consumerism, where Big Money Big Power are always turning up the heat. Slipping and sliding between the surreal and reality television and the white house and guns firing, a world where even cells within the body can be harvested as bio-capital to be sold and reproduced. A world where hyperrealistic holographs of dead rap icons are incarnated in front of an audience wearing plastic flower crowns and ‘Navajo’ print booty shorts purchased for $55.00 from major retailers built on the back of exploited black and brown labor overseas, and where the Jenner sisters unabashedly thieve the creative work of black femmes to rebrand as their own, while selling T-shirts with photographs of themselves superimposed over Biggie and Tupac for $200.
Yesterday on the 101 a semi driving along the Oregon coast tipped and spilled a truckload of hagfish, eels, upon unsuspecting vehicles the next lane over. The hagfish were on their way to be sold in Korea, where they are a delicacy. In total, 7,500 lbs. of fish sloshed over minivans and sedans. Hagfish have a skull, but beyond that their bodies are a tube of jelly with no spine to mark them as vertebrate. Most interestingly, the fish secrete a viscous slime when distressed which has the ability to expand up to five times its original volume when it meets water. What ensued on the 101 then, was a syrupy stretch of mucus encasing vehicles, service workers, and corpses of the eels, which die when out of water. It took a crew hours to slosh the goo from the roads and render them safe to drive upon again. Consumer culture is also fucking weird.
I do not think, actually, that the plague of millennials, or myself for that matter, is apathy, like so many seem to say. Swirling around us externally is an unrelenting feeding and receiving; it bleeds together while bleeding dry the body and the bought, the superstar, the self, the mega-politic. Internally, little pharmaceutical worlds twirl through our blood, themselves purchased, and ultrafine particulate matter inhaled near the sight of a fracked gas power plant teems in our lungs – we are plastic inside and out. It’s all so pitiless and strange. There is the Edward Abbey quote, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” But what choice do we have, when we look around and see what, exactly, we are working with?
When you live in a world where everything is collapsing together, and also collapsing, perhaps the continuous collapse and rebuilding of the self becomes the only way to move through space. How many worlds teem around us that could be, or exist only through a 3-inch screen, but exist nonetheless? How many worlds is it now possible to straddle at one time? And where then, do we situate the self, if the space we live in is not pure or reliable, and the spaces we have the power to create, subliminally or technologically, are not embodied or tangible? No, it’s not apathy that is the plague. It is the splitting of meaning, where if everything is one thing, and also nothing on its own, and everything is burning, then where do I direct my heart? What must happen for me to identify and ground intention, and then action, when I sit in the center of a spider web with infinite realities and infinite injustices stretching in front of me at once? Something big, and not passive at all must be at the center of direct movement then, and we young ones, having been born already in this bizarre mindset of a landscape, are perhaps best equipped to move when the complexity of it all would render us still.
Originally rooted in the plains of Colorado and now living in Portland, Oregon, Kelsey Gray is a fairly new self-identified poet and writer. With a lifelong background in the visual arts and a BA from Lewis and Clark College where she studied oil painting, Kelsey’s practice has recently taken a turn from the concretely tangible, to the more liminal. Kelsey’s written work has previously appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Nashville Review, Maudlin House, Synergia Journal of Gender Thought and Expression, and self-published chapbooks. ‘The Plague’ is an excerpt from Ten Grand Belly Aches.