Ceive is a novel in verse that retells the Noah’s Ark story on a container ship. Set in an imagined near-future when extreme weather and gun violence have brought on a collapse of civilization, the book follows the thoughts of a woman named Val as she journeys through desperation, grief, and reconnection. The story begins here, as Val is rescued from the wreckage of her flooding house by Roy, the former UPS man. Together they join a group that is escaping on a freighter to cross the North Atlantic to a new settlement in now-temperate Greenland. A dystopian vision of eco-catastrophe, Ceive is at the same time a manifesto for human solidarity, caregiving and survival.
Val, you are a fool.
You hear a knock,
a thud, and sit up—
that’s no neighbor,
no one is here, no one
is left—you are talking
to yourself, talking
to the inside of your
skull, talking to your
back to sleep, back
to the dream there is
a vent in your chest,
six louvered blades
across your sternum.
A hand reaches in
but gets caught, cut
as it tries to pull back.
N 41° 5´ / W 73° 52´
Gather your wits, girlie. You sit up on a pile of towels by the
defunct sump pump—dead quiet, no hum. The basement is
smeared with mud—in one corner feces and mud—and
someone is up there, in the kitchen. You hear a man’s weight
on the floorboards, footsteps that fade toward the north
corner then stop. For a moment there is no sound and you
watch the space inside the picture frame swell up to fill it.
The frame leans against the foundation—that’s the empty
story, gray stones wedged in prickly cement, wet with
groundwater, and you have been watching it. Then you hear
the high pitch of a hinge and boots clomp down the stairs
and he is there, a man, standing four feet away with his hands
behind his back. Unarmed. Or his weapon concealed. He
pushes a piece of candy toward you, which you eat. Who he
is takes a long time to rise to the top of your mind: brown
sleeves, canvas vest with pockets, shaking rain off his hat—
Roy, the UPS man. Get up, he says, there’s a ship that’s getting
Frame: clicking off the radio,
dim Tuesday, dishes in the sink
from the night before—she had
offered to do them but you said
you both needed rest. You took
the sponge, said you’d try to call
her father later, California time.
Frame: you dragged the full can
back to the curb but hadn’t seen
the garbage truck in weeks.
She went to school, wanted to,
and you watched her grab her
knit cap with the tassel, canter
to the corner and out of sight.
Turned back to your tea and list.
Frame: planes overhead, more
planes, dull booms from south,
sirens. Upriver—thunder, olive-
tinted sky, gusts, hail. Sparks
at the corner pole, power out.
N 41° 5´ / W 73° 52´
You shake your head. You won’t go. She could come back. He
looks away, looks at the empty green bean can.
Frame: shudder of the fridge fan
then out. Power out. You tried to
call her—no cell—tried to call your
ex from the landline—no dial tone—
pulled on boots and ran into the road,
your neighbor clutching a hoe yelling
over the gusts about bombed bridges
and tunnels, bombs from planes, fire-
fight on the ridge. You ran—stoplight
out, swinging. You ran the metal steps
to the roof parking of the old diner and
onto Hudson Terrace, heard the rounds
from there, smelled propellant before
you saw. School gate. Kids running
along the far field, across the bus lot,
smoke puffs above the trees. Frame:
N 41° 5´ / W 73° 52´
Roy looks around for anything useful. A length of rope.
A hammer. He picks up a box of drywall screws, puts it
down. You tip forward into a squat, palms on the cold
slab. How many days. Running feet went past the hopper
window, gutters overflowed, water sluiced into the well.
You watched for sneakers that could be hers. Arms
dragged duffels. Your neighbor rapped on the door—
gotta leave. Roar and thrash, ripped section of roof, ripped
branches, blown debris. No noise for days now except the
weather, thunder and gale. You’re the only voice in your
head now. Days since the last truck, canvas flap drawn
back, man yelling come on, come on. No.
Frame: screams receding, far afield.
At your feet, jackets. Jackets with kids
in them—face up or down. You reached
down the way you reached at her birth
before the birth was done, came up
with hands like that. Wind knocked
back: clouds churning over the river.
Frame: trumpet case. Funnel cloud.
Trumpet case kicked open, trumpet
a few feet away, vial of valve oil near
your foot. You picked it up. Sirens.
You ran back the way you came.
N 41° 5´ / W 73° 52´
He turns to go and when he gets three steps up, you move.
He looks back, frowns. Two minutes, he says, I’ll wait at the
door. You scold yourself: stop shaking. One tread at a time
into the kitchen — shattered glass in the sink, wet leaves on
the floor. You lift the faucet to hear the nothing, the choked
suck. From the drawer you grab a pen and notepad, a Ziploc
bag, a mini flashlight with a solar cell. Without looking, you
pull her picture from the corkboard, flick away its tack, slip it
into the bag, tuck the bag in your shirt. You put your hand in
your pocket, feel the vial of valve oil there. Left means what’s
staying, and left means who went. You go to the door where
Roy is waiting and remember what you said to her on her
third day, when she was swaddled and strapped to your chest
and you shaded her forehead with your palm: this is outside.
Val, don’t forget about
type one conditionality,
a habitual occurrence: if
it rains heavily, the valley
floods. Val, don’t deny
type two conditionality,
a likely occurrence: if it
rains heavily, the valley
will flood. Don’t be sur-
prised if it turns out to be
type three conditionality,
the whole world flooded,
I would build an ark. Val,
you’ve known all along
God regretted he made
human beings on the earth,
and was deeply troubled.
If you leave here now
you will never know
how high the water gets.
As the waters increase
they will bear up the ark
and the waters prevail.
N 41° 4´ / W 73° 52´
Roy grabs you by the arm and hurries you through wind and
rain with a torn Hefty bag over your head. Rain lashes your
calves, your cheeks, finds a path down your neck—or sweat—
salt or fresh. Along the river the wind pushes you forward,
southward, toward the train bridge and the playground and
the crumbled embankment. You turn to look up the rushing
gully that was Valley Street—to the left, St. Teresa’s steeple; to
the right, goalposts. Smolder on the ridge. Roy won’t let go of
your arm, keeps your step against his step until you stumble
into sync and your hips alternate with his, and you begin to
move with a rhythm of footfall and splash. Why did you make
me travel forth without my cloak to let base clouds overtake me
in my way. You step over a park sign flat on the ground—Losee
Field — white paint worn off the trough of the O. Roy pauses,
takes a few whistling breaths. You mop your face, hearshouts—
hiding your bravery in their rotten smoke.
A three-deck ship, neither
cypress nor gopher wood,
no portal nor sohar—a grid
of cell guides, sheltering
and animals. Overheard
instructions, received in
a dream or traffic jam,
injunction to build, cull
supplies, decide crew size,
hire stevedores to heave
crates and drums, traffic
in scraps and peculiars—
back to break-bulk cargo.
The righteous man waited
at a light as a tractor-trailer
slid back, but he was the one
moving, low gears catching
the future before he knew
how fast it caught the past.
At the end all things were
on demand, overnight and
bubble-wrapped by gross
and kilo: you were warned.
BK Fischer is the author of Ceive, forthcoming from BOA Editions, and four previous books of poetry–Radioapocrypha, My Lover’s Discourse, St. Rage’s Vault, and Mutiny Gallery–as well as a critical study, Museum Mediations. She teaches at Columbia University and is currently the poet laureate of Westchester County, New York.
Image: Step by Elizabeth King Durand