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.
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.