Blue-Sky Thinking
by Clive Collins

Me, age five, seated on the rug,
The room snug and heated
By an open fire of coal.
But outside, the day dark grey
Since morning, turning black.
Fog or smog, my mother says.
“Another starless night, son.
A week of this we’ve had.
Your Daddy will be late
Again, and his chest so bad.”
But on the radio, the voice
Of Daphne Oxenford asks
Am I sitting comfortably?
I say I am, and she begins
A tale, a song, a rhyme.

Years pass and in that time
I’ve sat in ever greater comfort,
The smog abolished, and
By Act of Parliament no less.
Cheap heat, cheap food, cheap clothes,
A car or three, TVs and stereos,
Holidays in the South of France,
Italy, Morocco, Miami, and L.A.
The Caribbean even.

But if dear old Daphne O.
Were here today, her question
Now might be, “Are you sitting
Uncomfortably?” She isn’t here
But I am, so I’ll begin a tale
Or start to sing a ditty, rhyme
Some words on giving up
And paying more, trying to replenish
The planet’s ever-dwindling store.
Put on more clothes in winter please,
Not the heat. Try in summertime
As best you can to tolerate
The climate we’ve created. Pay fairly
For the food you eat. Don’t, unless you
Absolutely must, buy meat. Give up cars.
Use your feet or bike or bus or train.
Do the very best you can not to take
A ‘plane.

My own time here’s so nearly done.
I know the legacy I leave is poor
A ruin even. Still, before I close
The door behind me, I feel
I owe it to the young to help
Them inherit something at least
Beginning to heal.

And so, Cassandra-like, I tell you all
The fault most definitely is
Within ourselves and not the stars –
Or words to that effect. (Apologies
Due here to Master Will Shakespeare.)
We cannot change the stars,
Though ruin them we might
Should we ever get there,
Which God forbid, but maybe
We can make them seem to shine
At night a little bit more brightly,
A little bit more clear.

PAINTING: Cassandra and the Burning of Troy by Evelyn De Morgan (1898).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This piece began as a slow trickle of thoughts and then became a flood.  I remembered the killer fogs/smog of Britain in the 1950s and 1960s and how they were ameliorated by the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968.  Sometimes it takes government to act on behalf of the individual, but now when it often feels as if governments are reluctant to act against the companies that increasingly control the planet then individuals must act. And that is the substance of the piece.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Leicester, England, Clive Collins is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/ Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.  Carried Away and Other Stories is now available from Red Bird Chapbooks.