What you send into space may yet await you, its compassionate tendrils ready to pet your face.
Rose Lemberg’s “Pollen” is a microcosm of a much larger story. This is how some of the best poems situate themselves: they focus on the minor wars unfolding on the tip of your eyelash. For the beings living there, the war isn’t minor. Nothing feels small about the world that greets us here, where a narrator tells us in reminiscence: “When I was a child, rocketships bloomed between my palms like dandelions.” On its own, this is already a speculation. It’s presented by a speaker who is no longer a child, but who did spectacular things when they were one, who is still deeply invested in the future of their creations. We all untangle our own handful-skein of the God myth when young: we either reconcile that myth through what we make, or live long enough to see our myths mutate into something else, entirely.
The passage of time sluices through the emotional undercurrents by which Lemberg gently steers us. The poem relies on a solid willingness of the reader to untether from orthodox concerns, or ‘childish’ ones. You must believe a child can manifest rocketships. You must believe “pollen cosmonauts I made from the tundra in bloom / that clings to thin life above the chasm of permafrost” can inhabit the distant stars. More than this, you must want to believe: it is the wanting, the childlike optimism, that I find to be the most resilient and aware mechanism of this poem.
What a calm, cavernous industry Lemberg has made for us in trusting our creators, even (especially) when they do not bellow in terror, or consume their children. Why can we not believe that what a child makes might save us all?
This is the twenty-fifth installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.