When It Really Is Just the Wind, and Not a Furious Vexation

Survival is not a fortress; it is a garden.

This past July, I got to open up for Rudy Francisco here in Minneapolis at Icehouse, and used it as an opportunity to formally “debut” a poem I’ve been working on for months, probably my favorite new thing that I’ve written since my book came out. As always, I like the share a few notes on the process, as well as the full text below.

1. Yes, the title is a reference to Mad Max: Fury Road, which is partly because it’s just a great film with some unbelievably cool and poetic dialogue (including that “furious vexation” line), but also because the poem is all about concepts that film explores too: Who survives the end of the world? How can people who have been socialized to go it alone put their egos aside and cooperate with others? And how does that last question apply specifically to men? I think this poem fits right at home in my “suite” of poems about masculinity, from Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up,” to Handshakes, to The Art of Taking the L and beyond.

2. It’s the “poem version” of a song I released a few months ago. A lot of the notes I’m sharing here are just echoing stuff I said about the latest Guante & Big Cats song, Roguelike. As someone who writes both songs and poems, it can be a lot of fun sometimes to explore an idea from different angles, via different forms. I feel like both this poem and that song are basically saying the same thing, but different approaches may speak to different audiences, and I’m glad to have both versions out in the world.

  • Both versions were inspired by archaeologist Chris Begley’s book The Next Apocalypse, which I first came across via Kelly Hayes’ Movement Memos podcast. A relevant quote from Begley: In this book, I show how understanding the collapse of civilizations can help us prepare for a troubled future. Pandemic, climate change, or war: our era is rife with the indicators of doomsday. In movies, books, and more, our imaginations run wild with visions of dreadful, abandoned cities and returning to the land in a desperate attempt at survival. In “The Next Apocalypse,” I argue that we completely misunderstand how disaster works… it was communities, not lone heroes, who survived past apocalypses—and who will survive the next.

3. This poem isn’t in my new zine bundle, but absolutely captures the spirit of that project. As you may know already know, I put together a new zine bundle that’s available to order now via Button Poetry. Seven zines on topics ranging from poetry, to abolition, to consent, to K-pop group BTS, to healthy masculinity, to getting involved in activism for the first time. It’s a great impressionistic look into my work. Of course, I usually give them away for free, and you can read them online here, but the bundle is a way to get physical copies for anyone who wants them. I feel like this “Just the Wind” poem is a perfect companion piece to my newest zine, “Of What Future Are These the Wild, Early, Days? Resources for Emerging Movement-Builders.”

Thanks, as always, for watching. Please share! Here’s the full text:


We are preparing for the wrong disaster. – Chris Begley, The Next Apocalypse

The year I was born, the Soviet Union’s early warning radar system malfunctioned, reporting five intercontinental ballistic missiles in flight, a preemptive nuclear strike. You may have heard this story: How a single lieutenant colonel dismissed the signal as the false alarm it was… but had he made a different call, in that moment? Had he seen those five ghost fingers as a fist?

A mushroom cloud: the most dangerous cliche; I hold it in my hands on my 40th birthday and it becomes a bouquet, a thousand stems leading to a thousand worlds in which cooler heads did not prevail, to a thousand alternate universe versions of me, born in the year of the apocalypse. I see myself:

Dead, via radiation poisoning. Dead, via the shutdown of the supply chain, failure of the water system, reemergence of previously preventable diseases. Dead in such manly ways: Via an unlucky fall, in a fistfight over nothing. Via a scratch, that got infected, and ignored.

I pluck petals, looking for a version of me who survives. Hoping to find that… you know, leather jacket, black motorcycle, katana strapped to my back version. That warrior poet, lone vessel of vengeance, keeping the wasteland’s unending tide of razor-clawed mutants at bay version.

All these dead worlds, and he isn’t out there. All these visions of who I could have been, and not a single hero: folk, super, anti- or otherwise. In one life, I wore a suit of armor, and drowned in the river. In one life, I hoarded food, and choked on it. In one life, the basement was so full of boxes of bullets; a tornado came and I had nowhere to go. No shelter. I emptied clip after clip into the wind. All these dead worlds, and we tell the same stories.

…Which is not to say that I never survive. Just that my survival, in every reality where it is possible, never belongs to me. I see myself: forty. Not a dual-wielding bandit warlord, just a neighbor, sitting in some community meeting. Because how many of our ancestors have already taught us? Even after the world ends, there is work to do. I see myself in that work: not the leader, not a lone wolf, just part of the pack. Because in every universe in which I am alive, it is because of other people. And I don’t always like them, but I love them. In every universe in which I am alive, it is less because I could fight… and more because I could forgive. Because I could cooperate. Because I could apologize. Because I could dance. Because I could grow pumpkins in my backyard and leave them at my neighbor’s door, asking for nothing in return.

In every universe in which I am alive, I am holding: A first aid kit, a solar panel, a sleeping cat. Never a rusty battle ax or rocket launcher—sure, maybe sometimes a chainsaw, but only for firewood. I am holding: a cooking pot, a teddy bear, a photo album, a basketball, a bouquet of flowers.

Survival is not a fortress; it is a garden. Survival is not a siren; it is a symphony. And yes, we fight for it sometimes, but survival is not the fight. It is the healing after: clean water washing away the blood, the soft hum of someone you trust applying the bandage, the feeling of falling asleep in a safe place.