We didn’t waste them. We used the trees
to build, to burn. Some jungles
got in our way, and animals, especially bears.
We sucked oil from the ground,
and coal, and gold, drank Coke
at 80 miles an hour, tossing
trash out the windows
into unimportant air.
Talked, always, wired,
wireless, words glowing
on screens continents away.
Beamed messages to stars. Billions
of billions of messages, billions of us.
We dried rivers or dammed them, made
music, treaties, money, promises.
Made more and more of our kind,
which made the cars and the wars
necessary, the droughts and hurricanes.
Grains of soil flew in flocks, water hid
in clouds. A few of us raised wolves
that others shot. It didn’t matter
in the end. We had to eat. We ate
wetlands and tops of mountains.
Drank water from roots of plants,
from beaks of birds. Redstarts
sent up flares we didn’t see.
All the foxes went to ground.
Some said it was written in holy books,
others said we could change. But we couldn’t
reassemble glaciers, button the molecules together;
we couldn’t fill dry riverbeds with the silver flash
of fish. We couldn’t find the bears.
We knew you were coming
but we couldn’t stop. We leave you photos.
We leave you orange skies.
Added: Friday, July 29, 2016 / From "Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology" (University of Georgia Press). The anthology is a Split This Rock project, edited by co-founder Melissa Tuckey.
Pamela Alexander is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Slow Fire (2007) and Inland, a winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. Among her honors are the Yale Younger Poet award and two fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Massachusetts, as well as fellowships from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College and the Ohio Arts Council. She taught for many years at Oberlin College and at M.I.T., and is now now working on her fifth book as she explores the continent in a small RV with her cat. She is on the editorial board of FIELD.