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, including Slow Fire (Ausable/CopperCanyon, 2007). Her earlier books won the Yale Younger Poet and Iowa Poetry Prizes. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, including the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Boston Book Review, Orion, TriQuarterly, Poetry, The Journal, and New Republic. On the writing faculty at M.I.T. and Oberlin College for many years, she now writes nonfiction and poetry, and travels the continent in an RV with her cat. Her essays have appeared in Cimarron Review and Denver Quarterly. She also writes mystery novels under the pen name Pam Fox.