I DIDN’T MEAN TO WRITE THIS. by Susan Rukeyser

I meant to write about young environmental activist Greta Thunberg and her impact, how she was received on her recent visit to the US. I loved how uncomfortable Greta made the “grown-ups,” including me. I was dismayed and unsurprised by the sexism chucked at her like crumpled, plastic water bottles: How dare she not smile? 

But Greta’s visit coincided with the final stages of my divorce, and—perhaps you understand?—in that tender time, everything was metaphor. 


I read about a funeral held for a 700-year-old Icelandic glacier which had melted to the point that it could no longer move. It was considered “dead ice.” 

“I feel ya,” I said to a picture of grey rock, all that was left. 

Greta got me thinking about damage and denial and when is late too late? “The house is on fire,” she said, and it is, but it is also drowning. I watched YouTube videos of glaciers breaking apart, or calving. In one, tourists on the deck of an Alaskan cruise ship startle at the CRACK, then ooh and aah as one chunk after another of thick blue ice pulls free and collapses into roiling seawater. Some people cheer, others cry out, recognizing the tragedy they are witnessing. I wonder if they feel the spray on their faces, even at their safe distance. I wonder if they know there is nowhere on Earth that is safe. I wonder if they would admit to the thrill of watching the destruction of something beautiful. Or if they’d simply say, “How sad.” 


If you never join Twitter, does Donald Trump still make a sound? Oh, yes, I’m afraid so. Every day, in that crowded, sweaty, cacophonous room that is Twitter, your President rages and lies and misspells words, demonstrating that he is neither a great dealmaker nor a good man. We resist and ignore and wish him gone, but we remain frozen in this cruel reality.

But, lately: a promising tremor, as whistle-blows reverberate through ice. Justice moves glacier-slow, but it moves. We are not yet dead ice. 

Once the fissure appears, it’s just a matter of time before the CRACK. 


I didn’t mean to write about divorce. 

Which, in my case, this time, was overdue and bloodless, but still—a casting out, or off; a smack to the bruise of past divisions. The worst: calving from the glacier of my extended family, cousin birthday parties and wedding dances and annual reunions, holiday cards with photos of kids I don’t know. 

(Sunk deep in that old, familial ice: a Polaroid of me, age 14 or worse, at one of those family parties, smiling like I wanted to be more like them and less like me.) 

When I slipped underwater, the cold was a shock, but I got used to it. I stopped pretending to be frozen.

Who knows, now, in this destabilized climate, what weather will come? Maybe a surprising cold snap, to reshape us, again, hard as ice? On an unseasonably warm day, who knows what seeds might take hold.   

Or maybe we will stay fluid forever, curving into experience, slipping through impasse, dancing in eddies that catch, then release us, infused with fresh biology: mineral, animal, botanical. We will bear it all. 


We must be willing to drown for our transformation, I scribbled one moody night. We must be willing to give ourselves to the cold, dark unknown as we descend and decide: Will I bother to resurface, again?  

What has cleaved itself free cannot be reclaimed—thank Nature, if not God. We will grieve for our ruined illusions, of course, even as we wave them goodbye. 

I did not mean to write this.

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