Walking, wondering: which one could it be?

Conservative pant-suit and mother’s pearls?
Jeans and jiggle and purple shriek of hair?
You cannot sample or say, one of each,
please. You are distracted: you recognize
the shoulders of a lost lover in this stranger’s,
or a certain movement of the head in another’s.

Each single glance you make is a kind of haunting:
the world you’d lived in, old dreams of tomorrow,
dreams without the sinking sump of a barren ocean,
or a hole in the sky so big your arm fits through.
The future is a girl hidden on a crowded subway
train, in a corner, watching us all patiently,
whom nobody notices, waiting to arrive at last.

Walking down the length of the train, dodging
people hawking cheap electronics in a foreign
tongue, eyes turned out across the Han river,
hoping they’re not talking about coming wars,
or exhaling beneath their breaths, the next great plague;
maybe, just perhaps, they’ll mumble us to utopia.
Then you realize she might not be on this train at all.

— Gord Sellar, 29 October 2003, Seoul

This is just a little poem I wrote in my head one morning, and I spent a chunk of time fixing it, getting things closer to right. I don’t usually talk about what poems are about, but for my second-language readers it helps… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about, prediction, I guess…. about writing about the future, like I do in my SF writing, and about thinking about the future. What does it mean to think about the future? Is the future what we really think about when we think about the future? I think we often think of the past, or of things we are afraid of or things we love or have loved, or hate or have hated. In science fiction, the future is usually a kind of special imaginary description of the present or the recent past, dressed up in science-fiction clothing.

How tenuous and chancy, this whole endeavour of considering the future! The future is almost always something we don’t expect… and yet when it comes, we often say we knew it would happen. And we’re usually lying. One thing we can be sure of is that the future will surprise us… sooner or later, anyway.


October 29, 2003

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