Published on Academy of American Poets (

Human Habitat

Some did not want to alter the design
when the failure message
said massive problem with oxygen.
Some wanted to live full tilt with risk.

By then we were too weak for daily chores:
feeding chickens, hoeing yams,
calibrating pH this and N2 that . . .
felt like halfway summiting Everest.

We didn’t expect the honeybees
to die. Glass blocked the long-wave
light that guides them.
Farm soil too rich in microbes

concrete too fresh ate the oxygen.
We had pressure problems,
recalibrating the sniffer.  Bone tired
I reread Aristotle by waning light.

Being is either actual or potential. 
The actual is prior to substance. 
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,
Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood. 

I leafed through Turner’s England,
left the book open at Stonehenge. 
A shepherd struck by lightning lies dead,
dog howling, several sheep down too.

The painter gave gigantic proportion
to sulphurous god rimmed clouds
lightning slashing indigo sky
while close at hand lie fallen stones

dead religion, pages dusty
brown leaf shards gathering
in the gutter yet I cannot turn the page
wondering what I am and when

in the story of life my life is taking place.   
Now what.  No shepherd. No cathedral.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?


Copyright © 2015 by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘Human Habitat’ is from a sequence titled ‘Biosphere 2: Theory of Art’ written while I was in brief residence at this architecturally stunning science research facility outside of Tucson. Its early history was sensationalized when a team of ‘Biosphereans’ were sealed into the habitat for two years, an experiment within a closed biosphere in anticipation of space colonization. The poem eavesdrops on one of those residents, struggling to make the experiment come out right materially and spiritually. The site is now used by the University of Arizona for research on climate change.”
Alison Hawthorne Deming


Alison Hawthorne Deming

Poet and essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming was born in Connecticut in 1946

Date Published: 2015-06-23

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