Upon Playing Plants vs. Zombies in an Election Year
[Plant peas that will sprout more peas. Plant sunflowers that will mimic the brilliance of solar rays. Plant walnuts that will fortify your garden with their tough shells.]
In the end, Candide says, We must cultivate our garden. Subtext, in my reading: And the rest of the world is none of our business, no matter how it may rage or burn. I first read those words in college, and they’ve stuck in my head. They seem like words to live by as much as any commandment from a religion I no longer observe. In the din of daily information, when I see an online petition or a social justice hashtag, I think, That's fine for other people, but I have my own garden to cultivate. Apathy comes more naturally than outrage.
[Plant potatoes that will hide underground like landmines. Plant Venus flytraps to show even a plant can be carnivorous, the food chain is not always linear. Plant acorn squash, and butternut squash, and spaghetti squash, and delicate squash because you love an oxymoron.]
While I distract myself with games and toys, the world—best of all possible worlds, only world we have—churns out horrors on an endless assembly line. Earthquakes will kill thousands, bury bodies in miles-high piles of rubble and other bodies, and rend apart cities like bread broken over dinner tables. Autopsies will be interrupted by the spark of movement, the reanimation of dead flesh. The resurrections we once prayed for will come true but abominable: deceased loved ones arisen and walking, but still rotting, still reeking.
[Plant mushrooms that will sleep in the day and bloom under moonlight. Plant starfruit for the rush of power you feel when you bite into a likeness of the cosmos. Plant garlic to ward off vampires and other monsters.]
We must cultivate our garden in order to expel the rest of the world. Maybe the conspiracy theorists have been right, with their aluminum-foil hats and car trunks full of ammunition. An apocalypse doesn’t seem too far off, and I feel powerless to prevent anything. California is drying up, shriveling like a scrotum in snow. Baffled, I think, how can a whole state run out of something as basic as water? The answer is, as always, don’t think about it.
[Plant pumpkins for carving jack-o’-lanterns in autumn. Plant watermelons and cabbages and corn to fill the table on feast days. Plant a cactus for the dry season.]
Phoenix, where I lived for a year, was designed to look like Los Angeles, with its lush lawns and non-native palm trees. Urban planners upheld a legacy of denial of desert landscapes. Not so much a green thumb as a giant, green middle finger to Mother Nature and her scorched-earth shades of beige. Everyone says it’s a dry heat in Arizona, but Phoenix needs so many sprinklers for the upkeep of foreign flora that it creates its own bubble of humidity.
[Plant marigolds to bring wealth unto your house. Plant cherries for the memories of sitting on the stoop with Mom, spitting pits into a plastic cup. Plant coffee beans because you need the extra help waking up.]
Now I live in Tucson, where we have transplanted palm trees but no front lawns. I don’t read the newspaper, and I ignore political stories unless they’re spun for my amusement. I pull weeds from my back yard and play my Xbox. I vote only in presidential elections. I try not to think about how I’d adapt to a drought, or rising seas, or whatever form the inevitable shake-up of my comfortable life will assume. I consume and hope for the best. I may sit idle until danger has already crept onto my doorstep. And I wonder what the world could cook up to propel me from armchair to action. Push me from the nest, banish me from the garden.
William Hoffacker was born and raised in New York City. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Mondegreen, FreezeRay Poetry, matchbook, Cartridge Lit, and others. He also interviews contributors to The Collagist for the journal's blog. He currently lives and works in Tucson, AZ, and he tweets @YoungestOfOne.