Three Poems of the Last Generation

The left columns of the cleave poems in this series are in the voices of crew members aboard a generation ship. While they can be read as works of science fiction, the poems are a means for me to examine family relationships, especially in light of issues such as social justice and environmental concerns. To create the right columns, I used various sources contemporary to the poems’ writing as well as what I consider to be the speakers’ inner monologues. The resulting three-in-one poems give voice to the characters aboard the generation ship, to the social forces they contend with, and to the ways in which both complicate each other.



Last Generation:
The Engineer Composes a Message Before Departing for the Planet

(after Alex Sharp's I Rise)

Everything begins
with a broken form.
Like mines through earth,
through Earth: stripped
ores, smelted metals,
plastics wrung from oil,
until a shuttle rose, space
breaking around it.
And this asteroid we call
a ship: each surface
once cleaving our now
stock of machines,
the beams and ground
to support them, to bear
the weights we've made:
Once, you told me, we
or the we that first boarded
ages ago were believed
to be free from disease.
Like the children of gods
always seem to do,
those of us who came after
proved their parents'
humanity after all.
You gave me this after
you fell ill, what you'd found
as a child, swimming
where swimming was forbidden:
a green stone set in gold,
the gold set in some other
metal you were certain
had the signs of reuse.
You feared your body
a broken form then.
When you, risen in your
new form, join us down
on the planet none here
are certain will sustain us,
remind me of this: each
structure we build must hold
who we were when we built it,
who we are when we follow
its fall and rise back
to ourselves again.

because of the difficulties of classification
the statistical study of disease began
for the progress of preventative medicine
by anatomical site, survived as
a committee:

            I deserved to fight for myself.
an abridged classification:
the classification should be revised.
the following resolutions,
based on the principle
as it was first called:

            What little I had left.
the desirability
distinguishing between general diseases and
those localized to a particular organ:
the guiding force
without a guiding hand.

            I came back swinging.
As well as other problems of medical statistics
in preparation for subsequent revisions
an equal number of representatives
bringing the lists up to date,
the solution of a number of other questions.

            I asked for more.
in the population
included in the general list of diseases,
a parallel classification of diseases for use
in statistics of sickness.
a scheme for collecting and recording.

            NEW TEST.
The committee
consisting of the diagnostic code
used in several hospitals
for tabulation of morbidity statistics.
Point of view--

taking account of prevailing opinion
the structure and uses
serve as a link between the
essential changes
the basic structure:

            chronic illness.
            I survived.

Lines in the right column in italics are from the World Health Organization's "History of the development of the ICD [International Classification of Diseases]" and those in bold are from Alex Sharp's I Rise.



Last Generation:
The Counselor Records an Increase in Instances of the Pathetic Fallacy as the Landing Party Prepares to Leave the Ship

"That is, it appears that individuals who view nature in anthropomorphic terms are more likely to feel guilty for environmental degradation, and they take more steps toward environmental action."
--Kim-Pong Tam, "Anthropomorphism of Nature, Environmental Guilt, and Pro-Environmental Behavior" (
Sustainability, 30 September 2019)

this planet, which waits for us, accepts
its name.  this planet fails to communicate
its displeasure
at the name we've chosen for it;
her moonlets dance; her seas call us
down or warn us away;  she will give us
the chance to green her land, to thrive
unlike the brief life that came
before us that she wasn't able to nurture;
she will fight us, the way she must have
fought off what life had been;
sister to Earth; Earth's twin or cousin
the planet called to us, ages ago;
we heard its welcome, we heard
the signature of its chemicals
urging us to choose this planet
as endpoint; we waited (or
our ancestors waited) until we
figured out this planet would be the least
likely to comprise what could shatter
if not our attempt to live there,
then our ability to see ourselves
on its surface--

"a growing population:
expansion of areas under agriculture;
enhanced agriculture and forestry;
women, the very young, elderly and poor
the highest number of people affected
due to anthropogenic and natural drivers
due to human activities
over the city or downwind of urban areas;
extreme rainfall events;
droughts are projected to increase;
exacerbated stresses for conflict--
"a growing population:
expansion of areas under agriculture;
enhanced agriculture and forestry;
women, the very young, elderly and poor
the highest number of people affected
due to anthropogenic and natural drivers
due to human activities
over the city or downwind of urban areas;
projected to increase--"

Phrases in the right column are from the "Summary for Policymakers" section of the International Panel on Climate Change's 2019 "Climate Change and Land" report.

The source of the epigraph can be accessed at the MDPI Open Access Journals site.



Last Generation:
The Communications Officer Imagines the Debate Over Naming the Landing Site After Houston as a Final Session of Couples Therapy

"Houston saw Texas as his 'land of promise.' For him, it represented a place for bold enterprise, rife with political and financial opportunity."
--Thomas H. Kreneck, from the "Sam Houston" entry on the Texas State Historical Association's website

We compromised: I let you
name our first child after
your ancestral uncle, a name
you share in part, an uncle
whose marriages were legal
in the countries he escaped
to.  He couldn't live outside
history, you said, couldn't live
on Earth then the way we live here.
Now, when our son runs
away from us in the gardens,
I call his first name, his last (another
concession to you), but never
his middle name.  I can't bring
myself to use his middle
initial when I'm asked for his
full name on the forms
that record the details of our life
here.  Now we're having another
child, one whose full name I'd like
to call out through the walkways
as our children run from us--
the way they must run
from what we've imposed on them.
We compromised: I let you
believe we'd named our first child
after a line you belonged to,
if unwillingly.  Instead, I gave
the midwife a document, our child's
name one that breaks
again with the planet
our ancestors desired
to leave--

after you married your third wife
(having had no children with the first two)
you gave up drinking, which, I suppose,
was for the best if it clarified anything.
every time we pass the statue of you
on the highway between Dallas and the city--
the place that bears your name, just
outside the university that bears it too--
I think about what to tell my child
when he's old enough to ask about you,
who you were, why you were important.
leader of the state when it was a nation, this
a series of facts about who you were.
what you tried to do to maintain peace
in an age of peacelessness (if I can call it that:
era of a state and country where I too
benefit from needless advantages)
failed to keep the state from war.
we're linked that way, you and I.
to tell my children you're not
worthy of the names we've taken
from you, not worthy of the images
we've made of your frame:
would that resolve any of this?
when you compromised, did you

(after you'd seen you'd failed)
wonder what else you could have given
up on?  I want to make
an image of who we should be
from this state that you haunt.
if I believed in ghosts
(which I don't) I'd still tell my children
to listen instead
            to the living--



T.D. Walker

T.D. Walker is the author of Small Waiting Objects (CW Books, 2019), a collection of near-future science fiction poems. Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Web Conjunctions, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere, and she curates and hostsShort Waves / Short Poems. She draws on both her grounding in literary studies and her experience as a computer programmer in writing poetry and fiction. Find out more at T.D. recommends the Prometheus Radio Project.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, March 30, 2020 - 23:12