thoughts before drowning by Benjamin Beckman
An undergraduate at Yale and native of L.A., Benjamin's piece explores the burden his generation bears from prior generations’ inattention to climate change and rising tides.
Text: Baylina Pu
Soprano: Jennifer Lindsay
Piano: Stephen Karr
Thoughts before drowning is an elegy for our planet that deals directly with humankind's past inaction to prevent the onset of climate change and global warming. It tells of an 'I' and a 'you', both metaphorically representing our species as a whole, who build great and beautiful things - who 'gave names to all the incarnations of the sky' - before the waters rise and bring a 'warm death'. Despite the onset of destruction, as humans, we here will still 'miss this', we will continue to 'linger among what is human'. And through all of this, we are still unconcerned with how our actions affect other species, our planet, and each other: we are in denial. When 'you ask if I write to anyone in particular in my poems', the only way we can answer is by refusing to give one without the pain becoming unbearable.
It doesn't hurt when you phrase it like this:
last spring, I learned how to speak in a way
that would make ice melt. We invented
a language together,
gave names to all the incarnations of the sky
until we ran out of colors. Afterwards,
I asked if you remembered what it felt like
to decay. You said it was nothing special.
You ask if I write to anyone in particular in my poems.
I do not answer.The sky does not write
to anyone in particular. When the water rose,
it brought all our forgotten words with it.
And you were right: it was simple and painless,
a warm death. The echoes of our old names
surrounded us as we submerged,
and I saw the sun rise above us, thinking
how I'll miss this, how despite everything
I still linger among what is human. Even
this planet personifies into a mother,
the water carrying me like a womb.
I ask myself how many other things
have I allowed to seep through me, and
how long will it take to wring out each one.
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This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at cac.ca.gov
Supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach and the City of Long Beach.
Long Beach Opera events are supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission