On Place Series

On Place: Marlena Chertock

Forecasts as Inspiration

Forecast: 2085, published in OMNI Reboot, was born out of recurrent nightmares. I often dream that I’m driving along the highway and suddenly spot a tornado in my rearview mirror. The black vortex swirls closer and closer even as I slam on the accelerator. Or I’m on the beach, and then notice that the tide has gone so far out, the hermit crabs and starfish are easily visible. Which is a signal for a tidal wave. I’ll dream that I can see the wave starting to form, or that my town is flooding.

In eighth grade, I researched tornadoes for a science pamphlet. When I was even younger, I watched a program on mega tsunamis. Learning more about these events seemed to draw me in even more. For as long as I can remember, tornadoes and tidal waves have been two of my biggest fears. Maybe it’s the fact that if one of them actually happened, I would be utterly helpless.

I wrote Forecast: 2085 with a tinge of this fear in my stomach. For the past few months, I’ve been working on a series of stories titled Forecast, and Forecast: 2085 is the first of them that I have published. I wondered about the way things are going with climate change in my lifetime. How scientists are increasingly discussing sea-level rise, earthquakes, melting arctic ice, stronger winter storms and hurricanes. I thought that maybe by the year 2085, natural disasters would be so prevalent that they became normal. Like the typical forecast of the day.

That’s how Joanna was born, checking her weather app in the morning and finding that she’d face tornadoes, an earthquake, and a blizzard all in the same day, all in the same area. Joanna is much stronger than me, and opens her door in the face of these terrifying weather events, while I would probably be cowering in the basement.

Forecast: 2085 takes place in a city where people commute in and out every day from the nearby highways. They park their cars in garages in the city. I had Washington, D.C. and its suburbs in mind as I wrote, though I wanted others to be able to connect to the story.

My other story published in OMNI Reboot is Magruder Park Underwater. Last summer, I sat in a playground in a park nestled in Hyattsville, Maryland, a neighborhood right outside of D.C. After swinging and playing on the train, my friends and I wrote in notebooks. As a writing prompt, we gave each other a word to use and the setting of the story or poem had to be the park. That’s how I was inspired to write Magruder Park Underwater.

Like my Forecast series, this story includes themes of climate change, sea-level rise, and mass evacuation. I wondered what would happen to a flooded park. This tumbled into the world flooding and people evacuating the Chesapeake Bay areas. Once the park became an ocean, fish, turtles, and an octopus became residents of the playground. And so did a lone mermaid named Zina.

Sitting in the playground on that summer day, with kids running and screaming all around me, I could easily see the present and the future that I was creating in this underwater world. As kids stuck their fingers through holes that seem to be in all playground walls, I could picture tiny fish swimming through them instead. The creaking merry-go-round that kids were trying to hold onto became the octopus’ safe space, him wrapping his tentacles around the handrails. The weeping willow trees and cattails surrounding the park would be transformed underwater, their long branches swaying eerily.

Since I attended the University of Maryland in College Park, envisioning nearby Route 1 underwater was strange. I had fun making Zina explore areas of the park, then venture out onto Route 1 and the town.

I often write poems and stories based in my childhood homes, summer camp, or while traveling. Using place — especially a specific place in mind — can really help to shape a story and give it life. I hope you enjoy both of these pieces!

Marlena Chertock is the Poetry Editor for District Lit and a graduate of the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House. Her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cactus Heart, Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction, The Fem, The Little Patuxent Review, OMNI Reboot, Paper Darts, and The Syzygy Poetry Journal. Find her at or @mchertock.

About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection–I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way–I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts in the series. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

For the schedule of blog posts, please see this page.


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