In medias res by Alice Major

Alas poor child, you’re born
in medias res – the stage is set
with swirling depictions of a globe
in panic, small rainbow-coloured frogs
hopping into oblivion,
a scene of smoggy atmospheres,
vast gyres of plastic churning
in the ocean, Scylla and Charybdis,
sailors screaming from their boats,
soldiers raising fists, battle-dressed
for costumed wars.

And you have got to figure out the script.
It’s that recurring nightmare
of being unprepared, of never
having studied and now it’s curtain time.
That dream is just our human
situation – the only plot we’ve got
in this play without an author.
We’re writing it ourselves.

And I can’t help you. I am just
another figure in the chorus
of greying heads, wringing her hands
or pointing to a star.
Sorry to be useless, but that
is what we are.

Dear child of fortune, born today
into the middle of things,
break a leg. Don’t look for gods
descending in a basket,
or prompters in the wings.
Declaim one memorable soliloquy.
Turn a spotlight. Or pick up
pelting litter from the stage.
There is no ending, happy
or otherwise. Just play your part.


Copyright © Alice Major. Originally published in Welcome to the Anthropocene (University of Alberta Press, 2018).


Welcome to the Anthropocene is Alice Major’s 11th collection of poetry, and continues her long engagement with science and mathematics. In the collection she tackles the urgent questions raised by human activity on the planet: how do we get along in this complicated period when it can hard to figure out how to do much about the big stuff in our small way? She has also published the essay collection, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science.  Her many awards include the Pat Lowther Award and a National Magazine Award Gold Medal. As well as reading her work across Canada and in the U.S. and Britain, she has been an invited speaker at science and math gatherings. Alice founded the Edmonton Poetry Festival while serving as Edmonton’s first poet laureate. She received the 2017 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award.

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