Tomorrow’s Book: Artifacts in the Anthropocene


Tomorrow’s Book: Artifacts in the Anthropocene

Book 2 ︎︎︎ Found—Poetry Anthology of the Natural World

This Book Belongs To:
Gabriel H.

June 12, 2105

Artificial Island, New York

As more human-made objects were produced to be disposable, it became difficult to keep up with safely destroying waste and finding enough space to dump incombustible materials. Islands with high population density like Tokyo and New York City, have had the most trouble with handling a surplus of waste with limited land.

To address the problem, people have relied on artificial islands. These areas are made of compounded, incinerated, and shredded trash built in the ocean. While these landfills are finite solutions (each filling up every 50–100 years), groups of small trash islands help reign in waste from these dense communities while also providing more living and recreational areas.

To avoid having to constantly send resources and materials to the island, residents are encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible—reusing what they can find to serve a new purpose.

I swear, I’m sometimes not sure this damn job has been worth living on garbage. Sure, it doesn’t always feel like trash—the part of the island where all the houses are has some soil, grass, even a few trees. But the exhaust pipes sticking out of the ground where methane escapes from the waste below are constant reminders that I’m on the Earth, but not really on the earth.
             Still, free housing on land that’s technically a part of New York City isn’t easy to come by. When a few guys in suits came to our recycling plant in Jersey to see if any of us would relocate to the city for free…it just felt like I couldn’t pass it by. It’s been hard for Celia and I to be able to pay the bills after her mother passed away. It felt like this was truly our way out.
              My sister is still so embarrassed about her brother living on a “trash island,” although she’s had plenty of time to get over it. “You’re forty-two years old, I thought you’d be better off than this.” The worst part is that she’s constantly buying and throwing shit away when she doesn’t need to. She slides under the radar with actions that could get her arrested by the city. Well, right back at her! I’m embarrassed of her. I wouldn’t have to live on a pile of garbage if it wasn’t for people like her.
             Celia doesn’t seem to mind it. She plants little strawberries next to our house. For a twelve-year-old, she’s quite good at gardening. Sometimes she shares the berries with the neighbors next door. It’s honestly quite amazing that she’s even able to grow anything. I guess the roots can’t make it down far enough to the waste—not yet anyway.
             Work today was…solemn to say the least. It was my two-year anniversary of working at the plant. I’m glad that I can at least be a solution to this waste problem, even if it’s not the most glamorous job. Because of the work we’ve done—that I’ve done—they’re beginning to build another island. I overheard the boss saying they’re hoping to convince others (as in, those who don’t work in waste) to move to this next area. ‘Fancy apartment buildings, right on the water!,’ they say. But it’s been unfruitful. There’s still quite a stigma in the city about moving to a pile of garbage.
              I don’t blame them. If I lived in Manhattan and had dollars to spare, I wouldn’t leave the place for something like this.
             There is that (apparently) famous editor moving down the street from us. Trying to boost morale I guess...I wonder how much she was paid to move here. Showing that people who don’t work around trash all day can still have a good (and “luxurious,” I’m sure they’re touting) life on trash.
             She came by two days ago, knocking in a precise pattern. When I answered the door, she had prepared a structured speech. (Her name was…Meera Yader? Siera Wader? I can’t recall). She handed me a book—one she had edited—and explained that it was a poetry anthology. When I say explained, I mean a painfully slow explanation. It was clear she thought I didn’t know what a poetry anthology was, which was quite fun to humor her. Little did she know, I have two years of literature studies under my belt.
             In any case, I’m glad for a free book. It’s a collection of classic nature poems that she compiled. I said “thank you very much” and shut the door. I don’t need to be a part of her agenda. But I’ll take the reading material, happily.
             I started reading Celia a poem at bedtime each night. One night, we spread all the pages out on her floor, looking at them all at once. Every once in a while, there’s a word or phrase she doesn’t quite understand. She’s never seen a forest or heard a cicada. I try my best to explain, but it leaves me longing for childhood. So I have to continue.
             Sometimes when Celia falls asleep, I’ll read on ahead of her (Celia, I’m so sorry if you read this). It seems that the pages were cut short—there’s a handful of poems in the table of contents that are nowhere to be found! I immediately stomped right down to Kiera Saider (whatever her name is) and angrily knocked on her door. Did she think I, the man that works with garbage all day, wasn’t worthy of a full book?
              She answered, a bit alarmed, to be fair. The editor explained that these books were all being made here—she was beginning as the first publisher to be stationed on an artificial island. It instantly made sense. The book is made of cardboard, plastic, combined materials. She’s a forager. Where we live looks like a suburb—new, clean, small trees patterned on the walkways. But on the other half of the island, near the plant, there’s plenty of waste strewn about. It’s like a whole different world.
              Because the city is only willing to send materials and produce every so often, we get creative. We collect and make what we have work. And that’s what this book is doing—making this situation work without taking away what we love most.
              The editor explained that I would continue to receive more pages from her as she collected more materials. She promised, to be precise. Books would be in flux on this island, she explained. But just because it takes longer to build a book doesn’t mean the readers should have to wait longer to connect with it, right?
              Celia loves the Teasdale poem in the book, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” It feels rather dark to me, but her freckled face brightens each time she reads it. She’s working on memorizing it. As I write, she’s reciting. We’re sitting in the grass at sunset, staring at the bright lights of Brooklyn as the oranges and maroons hit the old walls of the buildings.
              “And Sprig—SPRING—herself,” Celia stumbled, still proudly, “would scarcely know that we were gone.”
+ In 2016, the average American produced 286 pounds of plastic waste, the highest rate per capita of any country (Law et al.).

+ If current trends hold, Anthropogenic mass will grow to three
times the world’s biomass by 2040. If we consider wasted objects, like what would be found in landfills, human-made artifacts outweighed the planet’s biomass in 2013 (Elhacham et al.).
+ Umi no Mori is an island made of trash in Japan in
Tokyo that started around 1986 (Japan Times).

+ Around 1992, Congress voted to ban the dumping of waste into the ocean. New York City was the last to integrate this policy—the day of the deadline (New York Times).