Conversations in art about ecological collapse and our place in the changing world

Conversation 22

I Invite John Prine
Heather Birrell

My head is hurting. I hear helicopters. I invite John Prine
into my dream. JP! I say. Why’d you have to up and die
of the covid-19? I wanted to hear you sing a song
about The Great Bewildering! Please. Swallow some gravel from
heaven’s quarry and croon it out to us, stuck down here 

zooming at each other’s sped up or slowed down faces.
When I told a professor I had just met that I was thinking
of backing off the booze, he said Oh, not quite yet. Let’s just
wait until the dust settles. As I walked away, I thought, Professor
of What? We wear our slippers to the stores and stretch masks like 

soft, clinical paws across our breathing and tasting holes. I used to
bleach all the surfaces but now I just brush crumbs with the heel
of one hand into the infinite bowl of the other. The kids want me 

out there in the sunshine, which will Vitamin D us to life, but I am still
waiting for your call on the landline I gave up years ago. My eleven-

year-old doesn’t know what a busy signal is. What do you mean?
she says. I mean someone made a video that so delighted me:
whales undulate through the skies above a Russian city and because I
know they belong in their unbelonging I somehow believe it to be true. Do you
know how to crochet the word forgiveness? Another angel has set up camp 

on my eyelid. She just alighted one day and now I can feel her jitterbugging – tictoctic
through day and night. When I ignore my phone for too long I forget about meetings
and take naps in strange places and it’s probably worse if you are a teenager. Or
homeless and toothless, searching valiantly for a place to rest. John Prine, have you
become a pear? Or a Kleenex box? Maybe the baby of a deep sea creature who 

lives to be hundreds of years old in the basement of the ocean. Between
the red LEAVE button and the red LEAVE MEETING button there is
a moment where we are all still waiting, yearning for release. You see us
in that pause. But you can’t touch us, because even an outlaw who
sleeps in his boots has to move on when the sun comes up.


Fish and Whistle
Charles Checketts

Pen, ink, and watercolour
20 x 20 cm
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