The Anthropocene

 

Everything’s mobile in this time of global flows:

money, people, goods, bacteria and disease.

Something’s affecting frogs, bats, bees and now the trees –

too set in their ways for new climates and viruses.

……………How were we to know?

 

A fungus gnaws away at bats in hibernation

in New England: ‘White-nose’. The bats wake up and fly

in search of prey in mid-winter. Six million die.

A European fungus – a probable extinction.

……………We were not to know.

 

Have all the Golden Frogs now gone from Panama?

When an African fungus smears spores on their skin

it closes down their osmo-regulation system.

Watch them wave goodbye to Sir David and his camera.

……………How were we to know?

 

Great Auks were favoured by the early mariners,

easy to catch as picking fruit and good to eat.

Birds were used for fuel, their fellows fried with the heat –

the last Great Auks were killed in Iceland for collectors.

……………We were not to know.

 

We’re still working our way through the planetary menu,

just finishing the ‘charismatic’ megafauna –

why take an aspirin when there’s White Horn Rhino powder?

Just one last slice of Bluefin Tuna – then adieu.

……………How were we to know?

 

We are as Gods so, of course, we’re having a blast:

the first species to enact, wilfully or not –

and as effectively as some vast meteorite –

a mass extinction. It’s the sixth. Our first and last.

……………We were not to know.

 

Nearing the climax of the climate wars, our slow

commanders somehow can’t provide decisive orders –

the attrition goes on with chainsaws and Toyotas.

There’s a soughing in the trees: You were not to know?

……………How could you not know?                                                                               

 

Mark Haworth-Booth
Illustration Nick Victor

 

(With acknowledgements to Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction and Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Exposure’.)

 


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