‘What If’ in a Tenuous World—Prompts Inspired by Paige Lewis

I want to thank Brendan Constantine for sharing this beautiful poem by Paige Lewis (originally published in Gulf Coast).


What are your “what ifs”? As oceans rise and hillsides burn, what specific pieces of panic grip you the hardest? The minor, unavoidable crises of everyday life: traffic, rising housing prices, that email from your boss, the awkward pause in a conversation with your partner?

Or is it the disappearing insects, the loss of habitat for tigers, droughts, the dead zones in the oceans, your nephew’s future, your child’s? What series of questions slide down your throat to curl in your chest, hissing snakelike at your attempts at logic, at comfort? What disaster plans run through your mind as you try to sleep? Do you have emergency plans and extra supplies?

Make a list of what ifs. Provide answers. Or not. Show the anxiety fluttering in your lungs.