I'd lean close, my ear to her whisper and roar, her tongue scattered with stars. She'd belt her brassy voice over the waves' backbeat. No one sings better than her. Would she ever bite the inside of her cheek? Would she yell at the moon to quit tugging at her hem, or would she whistle, drop her blue dress and shimmy through space to cleave to that shimmer? What did she mean to say that morning she spit out the emaciated whale wearing a net for a corset? All this emptying on the sand. Eyeless shrimp. Oiled pelicans. Within her jaws the coral forests, glittering fish, waves like teeth, her hungry mortal brine.
Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,
the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations
of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.
It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing
but benzene, mercury, the stomachs
of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic.
You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,
but I assure you we were.
We still had the night sky back then,
and like our ancestors, we admired
its illuminated doodles
of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.
Absolutely, there were some forests left!
Absolutely, we still had some lakes!
I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.
There were bees back then, and they pollinated
a euphoria of flowers so we might
contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,
“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”
And then all the bees were dead.
Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.