The Ancient Modern
Countdown / Joshua Alan Sturgill
20, 19. It’s a looking backward, a small countdown. Will next year be clarity of vision? 20/20? The world has not yet begun to glow. She has not yet opened her eyes. I think of Jesus, warning the people to be careful of claiming Abraham as their father. Should we consider this advice? Should we be careful not to claim the Earth as our Mother—until we do the things the Earth does? Until we have the steadiness, the generosity and translucence?
This morning, the Earth gave herself over to Beauty. She threw wide the sky. She welcomed the Sun with gifts of clouds. And Addis was transfigured. For a few hours, the city was a skin of unpolluted textures. With traffic for blood, and a breakfast of bananas and shiro. Often the pollution hides the mountains. A mountain that can’t be seen is not yet a mountain. The Sun is a theory until the dawn. Last night, the crescent moon settled like a feather on Entoto, then dissolved.
How do we live with all this noise? All our conversations are a muttering in our sleep. Dreamfull nonsense. While the Earth breathes fitfully beneath us. Does She count her revolutions? What would Earth’s own calendar be? And are these mountains her memories: dramatic at the moment of their rising, less defined as the centuries pass and softened with blankets of trees? Addis Ababa sits at the lip of long memory.
From my balcony, I see and hear and smell construction. Everywhere, brown buildings zag upward on wooden scaffolds. Thousands of thin, strong Ethiopian men are engaged in the labor. Up and up the buildings climb, and when the work is finished, a moment of stillness. Then, the buildings begin to decay. Paint peels, walls crack, roofs leak. Half the letters of the neon signs are dark. The city government decrees the widening of a street, and a row of buildings hastily erected a decade ago is hastily removed.
I’ve spread breadcrumbs on the wall of the balcony. But I don’t know the names of the birds here. There are small, sparrow-like birds who will come close enough for me to see the white markings around their dark eyes. I think of a Bob Dylan song. I make assumptions about my day. My feet are cold. My tea is warm. Children at the nearby elementary school chant in unison as they march to class. A new building stands next to one only a year or two old, but the contrast is striking. Dilapidation is immediate.
20, 19. Already Autumn. Hundreds of people will arrive in Addis today; some will stay. They swell in from the countryside. Rural life has shifted. The government dams the rivers to power the city, but the dams prevent the annual floods that the local people depend upon for growing crops and attracting animals to hunt. The rural areas are altered for the sake of the urban areas. But when the city is full, and the farmland empty… what then? Who will grow food for the millions and millions of Addis? And who will remember the Earth and love her enough to claim—
She is my Mother. She carries me and gives me the morning sky.