Alwyn Marriage was a philosophy lecturer at the University of Surrey in Guildford. She then decided to change course and studied environmental architecture in Wales.
She was held in rapt attention by the demonstration one of her lecturers gave during a lecture on fossil fuels.
As were her audience when she read 'Lighter' at the Guildford Institute in Guildford one evening during the Guildford Book Festival.
Look! he said, flicking his thumb
down over the tiny ratchet wheel.
I did, and as the flame rose up, he held
both cigarette lighter and my attention
in his hand.
Three hundred million years ago, he said,
sunlight absorbed by plants was trapped, dragged
down and buried with them as they died, decayed
in darkness, were compacted holding tight
to sun-squandered energy and light.
Geological gestation through millennia
squeezed plant matter into drip
of liquid gold. Somnolent ooze of oil
lay pregnant with power as human life evolved,
until our need or greed or ingenuity
released sunís ancient energy to serve
new solipsistic purposes. Godlike,
we lit the sunlight, combusted fossil fuels:
methane, ethane, propane, butane,
sunshine re-born in power.
Mesmerised by the unimaginably long time-span
and the tiny flickering flame in the darkening room,
my mind turned inside out. We squander it, he said.
We cannot replenish the supply, will leave
no reserves to warm or light those born too late.
Like this ... He blew
the flame out, carefully released the catch
and, lighter poised, flint still, stretched out
the silence as our eyes became
accustomed to the gloom.
Reproduced by kind permission of Alwyn Marriage from her collection Touching Earth.