Podcast Episode 22: The Watcher on the Wall

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Hi everyone, I’m Catherine Rockwood, and today on the Reckoning Magazine Podcast I’m going to be reading “The Watcher on the Wall” by Rebecca Bratten Weiss. And this poem is featured in Reckoning 6, which we are very proud of and which hope you will pick up or survey.

So the way we’d like to order the podcast is, first I’m going to tell you a little bit about Rebecca, and then I’m going to say a few words about what we really loved about this poem when it came through in the submissions, and then I’m going to read you the poem. Okay, so here goes.

(Rebecca’s bio appears below.)

So on to some thoughts about the poem itself. Here I would just say that what we loved about Rebecca’s poem was its clarity and anger, its willingness to fully engage with difficult human relationships with which and by means of which we try to understand the enormous danger and uncertain outcomes of environmental destruction. When climate communicators talk about the need to face difficult things, well, you’ll see what this poem does with that. It embodies the process of facing difficult things in a way we found both grave and uncanny, disturbing and galvanizing. And we hope you agree.

“The Watcher on the Wall” by Rebecca Bratten Weiss

The Watcher on the Wall

Lured by the first snow of winter,

my dead father managed to struggle out

of his grave on the far hill, managed to stagger

down into the walnut grove to meet me

as the heavy flakes fell.

He did not look bad. There

was a grandeur in his features in the half-light of

my torch.

What is it the snow does for the soil, again?

he asked me. Fixes nitrogen, I answered. No, wait

that’s lightning. I couldn’t remember what the snow

does except for cover the soil, cover us, cover the

living and the dead.

My father looked at me with some pity.

I saw then how his flesh had fallen away, how

his farm clothes were tattered.

I still know more than you do, girl, he said.

I am the watcher on the wall.

Before he died he’d said that,

called himself the watcher on the wall,

and it had meant only

that he watched men in bad suits on TV,

and read prophecies about the world’s end.

It had been an old man’s fantasy,

his final dodging of the truth.

Now I saw that he had found his wall.

His eyes were visionary, at last. Whatever it is

that’s coming for us, he’d seen it.

He opened his mouth to tell and I saw the blue

of bones and

the snow came between us and our voices

were silenced, and he could give no warning.