To Live There: on ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’

By and | 1 February 2019

The title, ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’, comes from American poet, Leigh Stein’s collection, Dispatch from the Future. There are many similarities between techniques used in Stein’s collection and ‘future fish’. Notably, Dispatch from the Future, like ‘future fish’, imagines the future with incredulity (‘We have this lush AstroTurf here. / We have these incredible windows’, p. 106) and trepidation (‘We run // towards the past, where we buried our fear, / just in case we missed it in the future’, p. 101).

Stein also uses hints of absurdity, just as ‘future fish’ uses hints of absurdity:


from the future, where

we are seeking reasons
to keep our clothes on.

Except me. I have no shoulders.
I fed them to this dingo. (p. 123)

Much of Stein’s Dispatch from the Future builds towards the third-last poem of her collection: ‘Lily, don’t fear the future. / I’m in it. We’re here.’ (p. 127) Stein’s idea of a future being shared among queer people, of a ‘we’ is in turn then referenced in the way that ‘future fish’ depicts the future and the possibility of hope within in as the narrator finds different ways of being and different ways of hoping.

Queers are intimately familiar with the costs of being queer – that, as much as anything, makes us queer. Given this state of affairs, the question really is not whether feelings such as grief, regret, & despair have a place in transformative politics: it would in fact be impossible to imagine transformative politics without these feelings. Nor is the question how to cultivate hope in the fact of despair, since such calls tend to demand the replacement of despair with hope. Rather, the question that faces us is how to make a future backward enough that even the most reluctant among us might want to live there. (Love, p. 163)

The future is important to queers. We do imagine futures where the most reluctant among us may be coaxed out of reluctance. We create art to reflect our hopes for these futures. Heather Love in her book, Feeling Backward, asks for the queer community to ‘imagine a future apart from the reproductive imperative, optimism, and the promise of redemption. A backward future, perhaps’ (p. 147).

The speaker in ‘Dispatch from the Future Fish’ finds quiet triumph even in complicated environments, in complicated personhood. They are an immigrant who takes their confusing, ‘flickering’ identity in stride – perhaps without hope of understanding, or hope of an entirely easy life – and still finds the act of embodying such an identity worth doing. They are given the vision of their future as a fish in the Pasig River, a river that has been made uninhabitable by pollution. They gaze upon such dangerous waters – and still choose to live there.

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