When I realized Seth Haines had a substack I thought for all of three minutes about whether or not I should subscribe. Three minutes may have been too long to consider it—subscribing to The Examined Life was clearly the only right answer. We published his short story "The World's Last Night" here at Fathom Mag almost five years ago now and I still think about it every few weeks. Obviously, I needed more from Seth Haines. Few people write in the overlap of imagination, craft, and logic but Seth—a poet and a lawyer—does. When I recieved his "War Poems" as part of the The Examined Life email I found myself coming back to them time and again and leaving each time wanting to share them with all of you. Seth agreed to republish his work here. So if you, like me, find this poem gives words to the chaos in your own mind and the world around us then may I suggest joining me as a subcriber to The Examined Life? According to Seth, there's another War Poem coming this week for subscribers .
— Kelsey Hency, Editor in Chief
Subscribe to The Examined Life from Seth Haines
Creator of Atoms,
In the myth I know, you spoke atoms into existence, fused those atoms to create the dust, molded that dust into the shape called human. You breathed consciousness, curiosity, and creativity into that human then released us to inevitability. To love, to beauty, to the sacred—yes. But also to fists, then rocks, then spears, then arrows, then guns and so forth. All possibilities led us to Heroshima, then Nagasaki. And if not there, where? And now, to what?
My mother shares stories from the Kennedy years. She and her best friend Karen under a desk, practicing for when the Reds force fed warheads to American children. She and Karen again on the playground waiting for the rockets leaving Cuba. She and Karen always pushing baby dolls in strollers, always flying high in swings, always swimming in Bayou Desiard with an eye turned to the gators and the other to the sky because some madman had sorted out how to rip holes through atmosphere and earth.
I was not raised in an era of easy enemies. The Red Army was a historic myth. Revolution had cut the iron curtain in two. America’s children were left looking at our Nikes, humming songs that smelled like teen spirit, flipping through Teen Magazine or Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition or The Anarchist’s Cookbook. A generation without meaning, mushroom clouds, or monsters. We were latchkey, lonely, lucky. We were self-sufficient, swollen, and stuck. There was no Red tide to watch rise.
Why create reincarnations, circles, repeating patterns? Why condemn us to another Era Absurdity: Hating brothers, some wage war to bring peace at the point of a missile. Here, in this recycling of history, the Ouroboros eats its tail and I can no longer imagine a war that is either useful or necessary. I can no longer imagine a world without war, either. And so, I keep an eye turned to the sky for salvation in one form or another.
In the myth I know, you spoke atoms into existence, and we learned to tear them apart. All possibilities led us to Heroshima, then Nagasaki. And if not there, where? And now, to what?
Cover image by Dan-Cristian Pāduret.