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The only truly terrible meal I ever made involved cloves
and now the use of cloves has become a personal joke.
It’s tempting to make a joke of all things that go wrong,
like those mussels on the California coast
cooked by the heatwave in their rock-bound shells,
only missing the garlic and Francis Ford Coppola’s viognier.

Mussel shells agape on rocks are said to be
the canaries in the coal mine for climate change,
just like women’s depression is said to be
the canary in the coal mine for total social collapse.
But since I now only tell vegan jokes I’ll say that
the real canary in the coal mine was the coal mine,  

just like I said at that secret society when I was fourteen,
invited by secret code to a secret meeting for
gifted and talented girls. Only those that cracked
the code were allowed to find the location in the bell tower
(star of the sea). Only I didn’t find out by cracking
the code but by hacking the school’s room-booking system—

some form of gift, maybe, but surely a shameful one.
In the bell tower (star of the sea) we were called to offer up
the one event in history we would excise
in order to change the world for the better.
One gifted girl said she would vanish the genocide in Rwanda
but was dismissed by the economics teacher for not  

thinking of something with more of a domino effect.
This was before the days of edutainment and the teacher clearly
hadn’t listened to that podcast about the necessary rise of women 

in Rwanda after the annihilation of so many men.
This was also before the days of white teachers considering
the non-negotiable mattering of non-white lives and she clearly

hadn’t listened to the domino-defying tragedies of specific losses.
A gifted hack, I offered up the discovery of fossil fuels
as my disappearing act and was met with
thoughtful nods and murmurs of approval.
Secretly it was not because I knew so much about
climate change but because I knew so much about

an absent father away for months at sea on an oil rig.
But my offering had enough domino implications
for the economics teacher: we would not be here in this
bell tower (star of the sea) if not for fossil fuels, she said.
We all came here by one engine or another, she said,
awed not by the missing wind-powered navigators

in her hand-picked group of gifted girls,
but by the giddy possibility of her own excision.
White teachers have always possessed a secret obsession
with their own annihilation, especially in a place like New Zealand,
invented by industry and maintained by fossils. A place where
it’s tempting to make a joke of all things that go wrong.

- Hannah Lees

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