Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Poem: Who unmade the world?

Goodnow Mountain

A Mary Oliver poem begins “Who made the world?” and ends with the line “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I wrote this poem in conversation with hers to express the complicated grief that comes with feeling the destruction of the wild, with seeing wild spaces within and without trampled and tamed.

It is meant to acknowledge that despair, while also reframing Oliver’s central question as a collective endeavor: What can we each do for wild places?

My poem, “The Last Place,” was published in the Explorer’s Club Spring Log.

The Last Place

Who unmade the world?

Who among us unmade the whales, and the Spotted owls?

Who unmade the chestnuts, the Sphinx moth? The ones who flitted like orbs out of tree hollows, the ones who greeted night like old friends in search of sweetness.

Future generations will not forgive the answer.

Tell me then, how do I live now that it’s mostly forsaken?

I do not want to hear: wild, precious, hope.

The mechanical teeth of this culture came for those long ago. Too many valued what we knew couldn’t last: you know the things.

This culture brought plastic to the bellies of all creatures, even the snow falls tainted on the ends of the earth.

Mothers pass poison from blood to breast to babies born on an earth we’ve sucked dry.

Tell me, what have you heard from the others? The ones we drown and bulldoze. The ones whose languages cannot be written down.

This culture brought the word Endling, laid it like a bloody bone in our lexicon of despair.

Explain: extinct.
Explain: drought.
Explain: unbelonging.

Or tell me how to lay hold of the day when they come for everything that is sacred.

Maybe how to spend our singular lives is the wrong question.

We could, if we wanted, follow our courage, to the almost unbearable tenderness of golden eagles nesting in stone.

But I fear we won’t. I grieve already their lost screeches. The erasure suddenly everywhere.

Tell me, what will you do for the last wild, precious place?

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Cayte’s weekly “Climate Matters” newsletter. Click here to sign up. Photo from Goodnow fire tower by Melissa Hart.

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Cayte Bosler is an investigative journalist covering the intersections of climate change, wildlife and community resilience in the Adirondack wilderness. Throughout her career, she has researched ecology and wildlife biology in protected areas in the Bolivian Amazon and in Cuba, trekked to an extreme altitude ecosystem in the Peruvian Andes, and boated through the mangrove-filled estuaries of Guatemala — all to chronicle solutions for conserving the natural world. She holds a master of science from Columbia University’s sustainability program and is a fellow of the Explorer’s Club.

2 Responses

  1. Phil Fitzpatrick says:

    A powerful collection of feelings and questions. I am reminded of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Holly Near’s song, “I am Willing ” also comes to mind as does Joan Baez’s ” When the Great Correction Comes”.

    Each of your sentiments connects with me. We must act with courage and with hope. As Pete Seeger sang, “Drops of water turn the mill”. We must not “go silent into the night” of oblivion. It is our duty, our obligation to each do what little we can.

    At seventy-six I can tell you that I had no idea of the harm my generation would cause. Perhaps we have no idea of the goodness which your generation and others will accomplish.

    Thank you for again sharing this poem.

  2. louis curth says:


    “Who killed Cock Robin?” “I,” said the Sparrow,
    “With my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin.”
    “Who saw him die?” “I,” said the Fly,
    “With my little eye, I saw him die.”
    “Who caught his blood?” “I,” said the Fish,
    “With my little dish, I caught his blood.”
    “Who’ll make the shroud?” “I,” said the Beetle,
    “With my thread and needle, I’ll make the shroud.”
    “Who’ll dig his grave?” “I,” said the Owl,
    “With my pick and shovel, I’ll dig his grave.”
    “Who’ll be the parson?” “I,” said the Rook,
    “With my little book, I’ll be the parson.”
    “Who’ll be the clerk?” “I,” said the Lark,
    “If it’s not in the dark, I’ll be the clerk.”
    “Who’ll carry the link?” “I,” said the Linnet,
    “I’ll fetch it in a minute, I’ll carry the link.”
    “Who’ll be chief mourner?” “I,” said the Dove,
    “I mourn for my love, I’ll be chief mourner.”
    “Who’ll carry the coffin?” “I,” said the Kite,
    “If it’s not through the night, I’ll carry the coffin.”
    “Who’ll bear the pall? “We,” said the Wren,
    “Both the cock and the hen, we’ll bear the pall.”
    “Who’ll sing a psalm?” “I,” said the Thrush,
    “As she sat on a bush, I’ll sing a psalm.”
    “Who’ll toll the bell?” “I,” said the bull,
    “Because I can pull, I’ll toll the bell.”
    All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
    When they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin.