Poetry

This poem reflects my puzzlement at an odd feature of the science fiction community: not really believing in a future they write about.

ISAAC FROM THE OUTSIDE

Gregory Benford

For years I knew Isaac from the outside,
through dread nightfalls and fresh daybreaks
over the galactic empire,
seeking as a teenage kid from Alabama
to know a future that hung foggy, shadowed.
Till I met him and in his penthouse high saw
Shades drawn against the immensity lurking over
Central Park. He would not lie in a bed against that
outer wall, he who deployed battle cruisers
through the starlit sevagram, and was a guy
who would not fly
in airplanes (one roller coaster was enough)
No, not tough
that way. Afraid of heights, yet he lived in a penthouse
because Janet wanted to,
for the view,
and once—only once–in a tux
high above Manhattan’s flux
he backed out on the balcony
for a photo, never looking around.
Or hearing the sound
of time’s sure falling.
Still, he saw the silky realm above,
even if those city-planet dwellers of Trantor
also feared their heavens. New Yorkers, all,
they loved their warrens.
Why not look further? I wondered,
while you debate the Galactic Empire’s politics
in comfy rooms.

He would not entertain, when I brought it up,
the odd, chilly idea of cryonics.
“I’ll die with my books on,”
he said, “and be gone.”
And the other dreamers:
crisp Heinlein, folksy Simak,
crusty Jack Williamson, wise Silverberg,
ever-young Clarke, even Fred Pohl in his rational rigor—
all wrote of passing like sunrise rays
through the cold nitrogen lens to see
landscapes beyond our gray reality.
But none I found would take a “free freeze,”
as one cryonerd told me.
Ginny Heinlein said he (and she) didn’t want him
to come back
from that dark silent cold,
though he was bold
and sure a better destiny brimmed ahead.
Bradbury sipped a cool dry martini
(having gotten two for Aldiss’ one)
and deployed the neighborhood argument:
“I’d be alone in a world I didn’t know,”
forgetting that’s the way he came in.
No warm wife or daughters, maybe
—though why couldn’t they come?—
yet fans aplenty, time-steeped in his voice, nostalgic.
There up ahead beckons a life
splashed across a bright new world,
and more–
vistas strange beyond the punctured metallic sky
huge above Metropolis.

So I wondered why he did not rage against
the fall of that night.
There’s much up ahead, he said,
But you’ll be…dead.
Whatever the odds, Isaac (and yes, they are small),
at the very worst you would lie in a sterile dry hospital
(bed on an inside wall, please)
amid all those strained dim faces dear to you,
your past peeling out behind,
a plot outline
run backward.
Morphine-soft air and coughing out your last,
about to endow your Foundation,
end of story, yes.
Yet the cryonics techs down the hall,
waiting for the last notes strumming
in the back of your woozy mind
at a still center, would give a gift:
you’d smile –
and go to that great deep release
with a thin sliver of hope.

August 2005

 

+++++++

A note written upon attending the funeral of a friend…

 

Drive

To not be forgotten

when all dead and rotten,

write things worth reading,

do that worth heeding.

For all time is fleeting

and death gives no greeting,

save

the grave

Live life while it runs

Heed the bold sun’s

Drive—be alive!