Excerpt from Other Fantasies for Extinction


Rachel Garber Cole



Every mass extinction event in earth’s history was caused by disruptions to the carbon cycle.

Two hundred and fifty million years ago,
before Mesozoic lizards ruled the earth,
our proto-mammalian ancestors:
those great and thorny mammals,
barreled mammals with heads
like a rumpus, bulky breasted beasts
of mammals with horns
and beaks and claws and fangs.
A mammal with a skull like a staple remover
A mammal with the body of a beanbag.

All lived together

on Pangea.
Endless North Dakotas
life was lived out on the margins.

This was a time before fruit
and grass
and flowers.
Our ugly ancestors lived off of shrubs
and each other.

Must have been a great and ugly place.

This world for fifty million years
Then The Great Dying in an instant—
sixty thousand years!

What? Sixty thousand years?
That’s nothing!
That’s no time To die!

Ninety eight percent of life


We almost didn’t make it.

Continental Flood Basalts—
the Siberian Traps–
leeched out the planet’s secrets for three million years the earth
inside and inside out.

They are like volcanoes but not so showy more like
cystic acne more like a pussing wound.
Brazen patches of earth,
miles and miles of it, degassing

closer to the ground

Ejaculating over and over and over again the earth
spewing the earth revealing the earth rejecting the earth
enough lava to cover the continental U.S. a half mile deep.

What happened
that the earth purged so fully?
What did it want?
What had it asked for but not yet received?
A cleansing, maybe
Life, after all
was an ugly thing.

And so gigatons of carbon dioxide acidify the oceans oxygen extinguishes hydrogen sulfide invades rotten egg waters bubble to the surface and burst ozone death and radiation mutant spores broad sheets of flame the air sulphurous a darkened sky and hypercanes are hurricanes as big as continents.

The world is endless
there are infinite possibilities for your body.
As long as the planet holds.

Only two species of mammals crawled across that border.

Our great great great great great great grandmothers

pig like
tusked and beaked burrowers
bewildered inheritors of this wasted world–
the early Triassic–
not a tree in sight for ten million years
our great great great great too many greats to count grandmothers
lived close to the ground.

A way a species might die is called a Kill Mechanism. Among the Kill Mechanisms for the dinosaurs was another, different Continental Flood Basalt: The Decan Traps. In India, for millions of years, it really weakened the atmosphere.

These places now
The Siberian Traps
The Decan Traps
Both of these traps


so beautiful!

There were some who prayed for death in the terror of dying.

It was a thing that happened fast, although we could have seen the signs. After all, there were some who fled. A rumble that started low and deep, that grew from the bottom of the earth up through the mouth of Vesuvius. But we, being so engaged in the tedium of our own eyes, we scarcely saw the coming of the fire. Because there were mouths to feed because there were servants to beat. Because we were so consumed inside of our lives that we didn’t make time to run and then when we wanted to make the time there was no time. There was only the tucking of our breath against days and days and days. And then the days ended and we were stone.

When a planet is pulverized, where goes theology? There can’t possibly be space enough in heaven for an entire planet. Worse yet, if you believe in reincarnation, where would you go? Would other planets take you in? Microbiome under the Martian ice caps?

Pompeii is a world smaller than the rest of the world. I’m sure there was plenty of room for those stones in heaven.

I am trying to understand through history how it feels at the end of the world.

Sometimes I think about the land of the dinosaurs and I want to cry because I want to be there so badly. I want to walk amongst those beasts and lay my hands on their strong rough skin. I want to walk amongst those giant plants and those giant bodies. To feel unimaginably small.

The earth’s climate was different then. It was warmer and they hadn’t known an ice age for millions of years (and billions of years since Snowball Earth). The oceans were higher and the continents were in different, funny locations.

Today on the internet I came across a headline about how in these dark days of winter the Arctic is above freezing and I had to avert my eyes because I just can’t anymore.

I get so so so so so so sad to think that I will never see a dinosaur.

That’s the precise violence of time. It drops you on its map but it won’t let you explore, moving only forward along its vast four-dimensional landscape.

If a newspaper reporter approached me and asked where I would travel to if I could travel to anywhere I would tell her I would travel back to the land of the dinosaurs. I would sit in the shadow of the peaceful brontosaurus contemplatively chewing on leaves, the slow cries of a gentle pterodactyl flying overhead. My dinosaurs have leathery skin not feathers. My imagination has yet to catch up with science.

There is a warm lake near where the brontosaurus and I munch on leaves and that is where we take long large gulps of water.


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