Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Index

In the beginning there was darkness,
then a bunch of other stuff—and lots of people.
Some things were said and loosely interpreted,

or maybe things were not communicated clearly.
Regardless—there has always been an index.
That thing about the meek—how we

shall inherit the earth; that was a promise
made in a treaty at the dawn of time
agreed upon in primordial darkness                

and documented in the spiritual record.
The nature of the agreement was thus:
The world will seemingly be pushed past capacity.

A new planet will be “discovered” 31 light-years away.   
Space travel will advance rapidly,
making the journey feasible. The ice sheets will melt.

Things will get ugly. The only way to leave
will be to buy a ticket. Tickets will be priced at exactly
the amount that can be accrued

by abandoning basic humanity.
The index will show how you came by your fortune:            
If you murdered, trafficked or exploited the vulnerable,

stole, embezzled, poisoned, cheated, swindled,
or otherwise subdued nature to come by wealth
great enough to afford passage to the new earth;

if your ancestors did these things and you’ve done nothing
to benefit from their crimes yet do nothing to atone
through returning inherited wealth to the greater good

you shall be granted passage. It was agreed.
The meek shall stay, the powerful shall leave.
And it all shall start again.

The meek shall inherit the earth,
and what shall we do with it,
but set about putting aside our meekness?


Copyright © 2020 by Rena Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 4, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I wrote ‘The Index’ while attending a residency at Hedgebrook. I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream about an index that held the name and life story of everyone on Earth. I scrawled out the first lines in my bedside notebook, then I remembered a headline I’d read about the 'discovery' of a new Earth-like planet. I thought about that word, 'discovery' and how it was used to justify the dispossession and genocide of Indigenous Peoples of the western hemisphere. The poem was written with an urgent feeling that everyone ought to pull together and figure out how to live sustainably on this Earth with each other, otherwise, we carry 'discovery' forward in our hearts, as a justification for genocide and the continued destruction of our planet.”
Rena Priest


Rena Priest

Rena Priest is the author of Sublime Subliminal (Floating Bridge Press, 2018). She lives in Bellingham, Washington.

Date Published: 2020-11-04

Source URL: