Ex­tinc­tion Son­nets

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Su­san Glick­man

1. The Mon­teverde Toad (Costa Rica)

For five days ev­ery spring, you sought a mate where wa­ter flowed against the roots of trees in the elf for­est, home to species that are small; you most of all. How des­o­late the moun­tain­tops where you no longer breed like fallen stars! How lost the sci­en­tists won­der­ing where you went and why. Per­haps mist gave fun­gus pur­chase on your shin­ing hide; per­haps the heat in­creased, dried up your pools. The for­mula’s wrong, a deadly alchemy, but fire and wa­ter in sym­pa­thy surely forged such strange am­phib­ian jew­els, so there’s still hope that one day you’ll be found like buried trea­sure: pa­tient, un­der­ground.

2. The Baiji Dol­phin (China)

The ghost of a drowned maiden whitely shone in the holy Yangtze for cen­turies, es­teemed as a god­dess: one glimpse then gone— brief as joy or beauty. Now fac­to­ries foul rivers thrown off course by hy­dro dams since the Great Leap For­ward left that myth be­hind as ob­so­lete; a hollow ideogram not fit to keep up with the modern mind. Al­ways shy and blind, what could you do but sing to your chil­dren in the muddy gloom where hooks were many and the fish were few? Re­pen­tance came too late; we must as­sume this time you’re drowned for real, will not re­turn no mat­ter how much in­cense peo­ple burn.

3. The Black-faced Hon­ey­creeper (Hawaii)

Rarest bird in the world, you re­mind me of chick­adees who make the win­ter merry: black-capped, finch-billed, a fist­ful of airy fluff. But un­like them, you are soli­tary, hid­den on re­mote Haleakala in scar­let-flow­er­ing trees fifty feet high whose honey you sip, scan­ning the blue sky for preda­tors. You can’t see malaria, can’t sense the lack of snails, your favourite diet; still, some in­stinct chased you here, out of range of pigs and cats. They say that you are strange. They say you are “un­usu­ally quiet.” Well, lonely as you are, why would you sing? You pretty thing, pretty thing, pretty thing.

4. The River Ot­ter (Ja­pan)

Once abun­dant as reeds in the wa­ters where you swam and played and raised your young for years, you’ve dis­ap­peared, vic­tim of ca­sual slaugh­ter be­cause hu­mans must wear fur. Prof­i­teers grew rich while your an­ces­tral home grew poor; poi­sons stilled the fish that were your food; the rivers couldn’t keep you any­more. How long did it take till you un­der­stood you must flee their shel­ter for the in­land sea, its un­known depths and bel­liger­ent waves? Small and brave, in groups of two or three you swam away, be­liev­ing you’d be saved. Those who search may find you in haiku sym­bol­iz­ing spring. But there’s no spring for you.

5. The Pyre­nean Ibex (France and Spain)

Who called you “Celia,” I won­der, and why? There was noth­ing heav­enly about you ex­cept per­haps the panoramic view the moun­tains gave you of the shift­ing sky piled high with clouds white as those win­ter snows that drove you, hun­gry, to find pas­ture land where sheep and goats al­ready grazed be­low. You couldn’t com­pete with them or with man, or so we think: ex­tinc­tion’s a mys­tery we’ll never un­der­stand. But full of guilt or full of pride, we tried to fix his­tory by cloning you. No luck. The things we killed can never be re­stored, we know that now. What we don’t know is who dies next, and how.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.