The Snowball Sisters

From Sanctuary Near Salt Creek. Potato Soup. 2003.

Behind me, behind the sofa
two little sisters stand styling my hair —
combs, bands and barrettes —
their tools put to serious use,
their voices from somewhere far in the back
of their blameless throats.

Reading the news, I try to picture it:
Earth, once a gigantic snowball.
There’s now evidence our planet turned
so cold, oceans froze from pole to equator.
Half a billion years ago, for some ten million years.
Thawing then in a sudden greenhouse effect.

Their breaths, uttering tiny dictums, are cool
and sweet. Today the sun bears down,
a scorching sphere. Concrete a willing
and absorbing heat sink. Have we decided finally
more is better? The ozone shrinks.
I obey their every command.

Volcanoes, however, keep belching
carbon, the runaway glaciation cannot last.
I read faster. Then, all hell breaks loose,
the scientist says. The meltdown is rapid.
Evolution, we are told, speeded up, defining
everything: complex species.

In a few short months it will be winter,
the onward march. Glaciers wait patiently
on mountain slopes. Days shorten.
We will be cozy around the fire, or throwing
snowballs. Youth, as it was meant to be,
perfectly wasted on the young.

Worms and snails, meanwhile, burrowing
into the ocean floor, stirring up gases.
The younger one swipes at my bangs
with a brush. I am frozen in place. The older one
pauses, swatch of my hair in her hand, whispers
This will only hurt a little.

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