“What Will We See When the Lights Go Out?” by Ryan McCarty

Ryan McCarty


My neighbor, near me on the bus, moves his lips
while looking at his phone. They’re like two
little birds whispering to that tiny sunrise he holds.
He will finish, snap out, look up, and laugh with me
at the empty roads, I know it, because we’re speeding
reckless in the wide open streets. The whole
world flew south to find a place to watch
one unimaginably distant body come
between us and another even more
distant body. If we believe the old stories,
they’re men and women, our mother
dancing, shielding us, hiding our father’s glare.
If we believe the new stories, roads will turn
to parking lots and children will forget
the names of their families, wandering lost
in a sea of empty gas stations and dehydration.
If we believe only the story that something
inevitable is happening, we will marvel
at the precision, at our predictive powers,
at the blurred lines between chirping crickets
and the notifications ringing in our pants.
Or, instead, on the roads, in our yards, high
behind windows built for silence, ludicrous
in our magical glasses, could we just lose
the tale? Know what the end might look like?
In the momentary darkness, fumbling
for our offerings to coax the daytime back—
our multitools and battery-powered radios,
our spare cash and backup maps, will we breathe
in that chill air, when everything purples,
when the birds change key, when millions
of us look, not to the sky but left and right, and see
each other, gone out of our way to stand,
together, where the light disappears.

from Poets Respond
April 7, 2024


Ryan McCarty: “I’ve been so struck by all the people I hear talking about their plans to watch the solar eclipse. Everyone is traveling, planning, convening. Thirty-one million people are supposed to be traveling to get somewhere within range. I love cosmic phenomena, but I love the way people obsess about them even more. I find myself wondering exactly what they hope to see—what they imagine—and if there’s any chance that one of these hyped-up celestial flickers might just one day change everything while we’re all standing around staring, together. Add in the almost apocalyptic warnings that accompany these kinds of events – communications breakdowns, gas shortages, traffic pileups, snack shortages—and I can’t stop imagining. That’s where this poem started.”

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