I don’t know exactly when this poem by Lisel Mueller was written but it is clearly of the modern, high-tech age, when we seemed to be fast-forwarding into the type of world predicted by the science fiction writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Indeed, it seemed for a time as if reality was outstripping the possibilities of fiction, hence this poem and a musing of what could take the place of techno-imagination…
The End of Science Fiction
This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.
Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.
There are four stanzas, the first two, shorter ones, briefly recap recent technological achievements of the human race, which, because of the title, lead the reader to the conclusion we are living in a world of science-fiction in reality; the second two, longer, stanzas ask what new genre could replace science fiction – but instead of really suggesting something new, the poem takes us back to classical, mythological and biblical references, so a rediscovery of the old, the traditional, the tried and tested, which might indeed be new to many people, but likely not to the intended readers of Mueller’s poem.
The marks of progress noted by the poet in the first half of the poem do not seem so unusual today – space exploration, computers, destructive capacity, medical advances, communications – these things are still moving forward, but we are still human.
But the second half of the poem suggests we should change our focus and reinvent what we have forgotten – the tales and traditions of ancient an former times. You can easily pick up the references to the tales of Adam and Eve, of Jesus Christ, of Aeneas and Anchises, of Jason and Medea, of David, and so on. Have we forgotten these traditions in the world of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter?
The Poetry Dude