Spring Street Recovery Project, A Poem by Chris Russell

This morning I had walked down Spring Street and there was this beetle in front of me on the sidewalk, and when I swerved to miss it, I walked into a stop sign beside a man taking out his trash. “Are you alright? Boy, that must have hurt,” he said. “Oh yeah, I was just trying not to kill a beetle and I didn’t see the stop sign,” I said. “They let you guys out for walks this early in the morning?” He said. Since the state hospital was nearby, he thought I was patient. I decided to play along. “Only for those of us who’ve earned level 4,” I said. “Well, have a good day,” he said. He jogged inside. But my thoughts were still on the beetle. Then I had this thought that by simply avoiding the beetle I might have killed an ant in the process, or wiped out some ant’s food stash, making it necessary for the ant to find food elsewhere and thereby increasing the probability of it being stepped on or killed by some other means. I walked by house after house on that street and thought to myself how many ants had to die to make room for all these houses with people in them, how many trees and woodpeckers had once lived in them? The tailpipes of the cars that passed me spilled the last breaths of those who had died fighting for gas. How had people erected these buildings, assembled these technologies knowing many living things might die? These little girls and their mother ran out the front door of one of them, and they laughed and chased each other, and I thought, you murdered, choked people with your appearance of innocence. “Good morning,” she said. “Good morning,” I said. I tripped on a frost heave that had pushed the sidewalk up into something resembling a tiny volcano. “Are you alright?” she said. “Yeah, it’s just one of those mornings,” I said. “You really shouldn’t be out walking by yourself if your legs are still in recovery,” she said. I didn’t know what she was talking about. It certainly wasn’t the moment for a joke. She didn’t give me a chance to reply. She got in her car with her children and zoomed off. We should be living in tents and paying more respect to those lives we take. If we’re killers, even well intentioned or conveniently accidental ones, we shouldn’t be allowed to appear carefree and happy, never mind attractive. One should always look haunted, forlorn and stricken by terrible burden, if at least out of respect. And if I hear one more person tell me to smile at work, and cause me to have to reflect upon how extermination camps might have gotten started, I’m going to go catatonic to slow down whatever demonic change is occurring within my body, so that I might have one, clear disillusioned thought before I become one of them myself. The very act of breathing takes life from another. How many deoxygenated moments must an individual unconsciously suffer in order to make half-witted decisions that shorten the lives of millions? At home this afternoon I practiced looking haunted. I walked from the living room to the kitchen and then stopped myself and stared at the wall in silence, like the only survivor of a plane crash. Everything is broken and crushed and buried and we’re running out of ground. But we’ll keep looking up, and when the ground is gone everything will be up. And if there’s any beauty in this world it’s like a child with no arms trying to pull his dog out of a fire by the collar with his teeth.

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