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Poetry by Robin Chapman

Autumn Equinox 
The maple leaves have taken on that stressed 
bronze-green that says they’re almost gone 
and the locust trees flood our streets 
with small gold fish in a river so thick
and purpose-blown that Goldsworthy 
could be at work and the walnut tree breathes 
its aspirin-scented breath, its green baseballs 
thudding on the roof, its fronds lining 
the squirrel nest tucked into its crotch. 
Staccato snaps of seedpods, hummingbird 
probing every last blossom of phlox,
chipmunks feasting on my tulip bulbs:
all of us readying our winter sojourn,
seeding the world for the sun’s return.


The End-Permian Extinction Event

So maybe we’ve been here before, but it wasn’t so great.
I’m rummaging paleohistory, 250 million years ago,
when carbon dioxide levels were three times our current
off-chart readings, looking for signs we’re only traveling
a road we’ve been down and survived before—
and there’s the signature of a one-time peak in greenhouse gas
and temperature; there too, laid down around the world 
in the layers of rock, a sudden silence: The Great Dying,
paleontologists call it. In the seas, no trace of oxygen,
no sea urchins, sessile worms, fish skeletons, no single-celled,
many-celled, rooted or floating, stalked or finned thing;
on land, the records show, 3 of every 4 fossil species
vanish, Pangea’s trees and dragonflies, the creatures
who’ve climbed out of the sea. The records suggest
some conspiracy of cause—almost a million cubic miles
of basalt flowing from volcanoes across what’s western Siberia 
now, ozone-eating fluorine and chlorine gases, maybe the sea 
burping its methane or hydrogen sulfide as an asteroid or comet 
the size of Mt. Everest plunges into the mantle, iced-over now 
in Antarctica, the super-continent spitting apart—and then
the whip-crack of cold, cutting off adaptation. And now—
do we think, looking today at the greenhouse gases climb,
that earth’s magma and an asteroid are racing to save life again?


Edge Elegy

The Zoological Society of London has hatched
a short-list of vanishing mammals whose genes
are so different from the rest of us that chance
can’t likely replace them, a roster of poster-children
gone missing: dates last seen for pygmy hippopotamus
and Yangtze river dolphin, the giant golden-rumped 
elephant shrew, the venom-injecting Hispaniolan agouta, 
an egg-laying long-beaked Echidna, a mouse-like 
long-eared Jerboa, the big-eyed Slender Loris
and Hirola or four-eyed antelope, the wild Bactrian camel,
the bumble-bee bat—winners in an advertising race
where we’ve already written off the balance sheet
millions of species more distant—microbe
and mold, tube worm, amphibian, ant—in this 
dying-off of the life of our world that began
when we set our hands to the flaking of rock,
our iron axes to the felling of trees, our shoulders 
to the plough, all along singing and making art
of the life of the past, our Eden lost, the Dreamtime.
Sing their names out here, then, their habitats,
points last seen, fragments of folklore and habit;
sing the names of the going-gone, the lost, 
sing the vanishing lives of the vanishing species.


Looking into the World

How fast our eyes can translate sun glare
to maple leaf, the shaking dark to aspen shade,
eyes tuned to early morning’s sky-blue
to set our body clock. Adapted to old forest
and savannah, all day we feast on our heritage
in the long evolution of sight, taking in the indigo
bunting, the oriole, the rose-breasted grosbeak,
the goldfinch flock, the aging trillium’s pink,
the violet-blue of phlox—what our retina’s cones
can make of the sunlit world with three colors,
hunting for fruit and food among green leaves,
before dark comes on and we retreat to rods’ blacks
and whites, to shape and shadow and shades of gray.


The Tenderness of Spring

We hear it in the sighs of the wind 
as it moves through new grass, whispers
in the soft hairs on young stems of phlox, 
flutters the unfurled waterleaf, 
opens the umbrellas of Mayapple, 
rustles the myrtle creeping
in glossy dark coinage down the hill,
the bloodroot’s generous green,
the pliant scrolled leaves and stiffening
stalks of the tulips, quivers on the lips 
of the daffodil trumpets,
such soft singing from so many throats—

and the harp frames of the walnut branches,
the locusts, still bare, vibrate their deep
earth-rooted tones on the apple-blossomed air
over the shush of a car going past
not screened out yet by a million leaves 
budding to buffer summer’s thunderous heat.

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