Tolu Oloruntoba
Ways to Describe an Asteroid

Like a thousand-pound Pembroke Welsh Corgi

heavy as four baby elephants. The size

of a small car; or the size of a bridge.


As big as a bus, or the size of a house. As big

as 90 elephants. The size of an Olympic

swimming pool, with the width of an airfield.


Choose between one the size of Big Ben

or one as large as the Statue of Liberty.

In gradations: As big as a plane, the size


of a 20-story building, or the Parthenon.

Something heavy cometh, or must,

we believe, though we may be unlikely


targets in the pebble-strewn cosmos. Consider

the hyperbolic asteroid ‘Oumuamua, interstellar

scout of the glancing kiss, calling the aerial


bombardment of its companions. We’d like

to believe that. Fear is invigorating, and

we sense we have done things for which


the punishment must be oblivion. Or recall

the alien craft Apsinthos, also called Wormwood

in John the Revelator’s novella, bringing judgment,


star-bright in reentry. We are made of stories,

in which we made the rain into molten sulphur

for Gomorrah’s apocalypse. Or stories of floods:


of Gilgamesh, of Noah, or Deucalion,

of the Anishinaabe, or Mēxihkah, or the Ket in Siberia.

Res ipsa loquitor. So our economy of fictions


needed a more dire apocalypse than the Greek

apokalupsis, a new heteronym, apocalypse, as ironic

pelt, world-end over apocalypse, an uncovering


of what had been obscure. Only bitterness comes

out of the allegory-to-religion pipeline, but I digress.

Our own apocalypse is as large as a thousand


thousand fabrications, or feints of meaning,

or conclusions of social commentary. And like most

xenophobes we are denying just the new arrivants.


Past rocks, useful for flinging up the moon on impact,

ending the Cretaceous, or bringing the early irons

of our forges, are fine. We are simply the animal


that vanquishing all our predators made of us: overgrown,

laid bare: able to adapt, sieve the air with our lungs. Shorn:

warm blood letting us work outside the shade,


able to nurse our crumpled young.

Revealed: solving and making problems in equal

measure, opportunistic, irritable, food-seeking,


space-taking, sensing a turn in the weather, the ending

of the world around us. But saying the world is a hubris.

It is the ending of one world, like many others before it.


And we, are ending it, or will have it ended for us.

But no matter, other things will continue: The journey

of rock in its seasons ongoing as our whimper dwindles.


Plankton rushing through the tectonic gates in geologic-

timed swings-open. Bees languid with full honey stomachs.

Moss smothering the shadier sides of buildings. Bramble


and fruit-pip forests overtaking sidewalks; houseplants

spilling green locs through apartment towers. Milk cows

visiting neighbor towns. And the orcas will knock out the


last navy’s last sonar. And stars poke their way through

the last glare blanket. Mongooses, hyenas, wild boars

will approach the city tentatively, sniff the architecture,


and take residence. And house cats and dogs venture

beyond city limits, since the old tenants will never return.

Mise-en-scène: nematodes that breathe sulphur, bacteria


that eat the gold from tooth fillings and the metal from hip

replacements. The organic phosphates of cremain ashes

enlivening the tired soil. Earthworms looping through


the grooved teeth of strip mines. But some of us

will survive, in the cyclical extinction of bullies, until

a meek remnant inherits this earth, back in caves


they may not have begun in. This is not the worst

possible outcome, in astronomical time. What’s one

little asteroid the size of an ice cream truck?



Found In Volume 53, No. 02
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  • oloruntoba tolu
Tolu Oloruntoba
About the Author

Tolu Oloruntoba was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, where he studied and practiced medicine. He is the author of two collections of poetry, The Junta of Happenstance (Palimpsest Press / Anstruther Books), winner of the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize and Governor General’s Literary Award, and Each One a Furnace (McClelland & Stewart / Penguin Random House Canada), a Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize finalist. He gave the 2022 League of Canadian Poets Anne Szumigalski Lecturer, and is a Civitella Ranieri fellow.