Around that time, the city grew quiet.
*WARNING: CONTAINS WALKING DEAD SPOILERS*
My mother recently discovered the glory of Netflix, and has been making her way through The Walking Dead. As a longtime fan, I love hearing her experience the characters and their struggles anew. The other day she called me as I was strolling through the well-stocked aisles of Target (that red-and-white symbol of capitalist, first-world, everything-is-ok safety) to talk about Hershel Greene (played by Scott Wilson), the stubborn, patriarchal farmer the group first encounters in season two.
"It's so ridiculous," she said on the other end of the line. "He doesn't want to kill the zombies because he thinks he can save them. He's hauling their snapping corpses out of the swamp and keeping them in a barn. I mean, come on!"
"But don't you think people are like that?" I countered, "In the way that they hold onto what they know? In their desperation to believe?"
"He's out of his mind. How could you look at one of those things and think you could save it?"
She had a point.
My mind drifted to her incredulity again when I was rereading one of my favorite poems, "Apocalypse," by Kevin Prufer, from his 2008 collection National Anthem. The world we enter in this poem is a blasted one. There are no undead creatures here, but the real danger of violence between human beings is very much alive. The dominant speaker (the "I") and the submissive "you" character traverse an empty landscape where we learn that "the TVs stopped bothering us," where "it rained and all the bodies in the graveyard washed away." In a world where little makes sense, these characters cling desperately to their humanity, to at least a semblance of normal, if menacing, human relations.
Even in what appears to be an apocalypse, the speakers relate to their circumstances through the metaphor of narrative, of cinema, particularly when the speaker says "As in a film of the apocalypse..."
This lens is, of course, a familiar one. So far, we only write, think, have nightmares, and make movies about the end of the world. It's fitting, then, that the speaker conceives of his wasted world in this way. But more importantly, the menacing moment of "If I was going to hurt you I'd have done it already" speaks to the gritty, grueling practicality of a world much like the one the characters of The Walking Dead inhabit. Minimizing damage, staying alive, and weighing the benefits of privileging the self over the group comprise most of the characters' cognition day to day. And yet, some lines later, the speaker makes a go at reassurance, at the comfort of a time before the apocalypse, telling the submissive partner, "I won't hurt you." We both do and do not believe them: it's a good story.
As the poem goes on, the two people face increasingly dire circumstances as they forage for food in the "dying city." And again, the speaker returns to the familiar, to the interpretive lenses of the world "before," to keep the "you" going for however long that may be: