When the last pollinator fluttered its wings and folded into itself, like newspaper as it catches flame, we’d already buried the skeletons of the remaining hummingbirds, the husks of bees, what little was left of the antennae of moths and butterflies, the tiny corpses of the penultimate wasp and ant, the sting and bite of these small lives no longer a threat. Nothing had to be done for the scurrying beetles who burrowed into caskets of their own making, but some of us hung the now still bodies of swerving bats from lampposts, while others gathered them in nets, making pilgrimages to caves to lay them to rest. At a museum in Washington, D.C., small brass plates named each creature, explained their place in the vanishing taxonomy. Underground installations housed seeds for plants and trees, and we collected an example of each species that played a role in fertilization, pinned them to a board with elaborate charts that identified body parts and their peculiar uses. We were most interested in their mechanical efficiency and wished to recover the ways they conveyed pollen from anther to stigma. We brought in theologians who revised the sign of the cross, a version that emphasized reproductive organs and the importance of fecundity. Even the scientists believed resurrection, grown in a Petri dish, was our only chance: stigmata marking the wings of a swallowtail or monarch, each of us longing to touch the holes we’d help to make in the colorful fabric. This was our prayer to unburden us of doubt, and despite our lack of faith, we ached for a peach at the end of a branch, a plum or apple, the honeyed pears we greedily ate in August, juice dribbling from our chins, fingers sticky with our own undoing. The few scientists who were not already living off-planet began to create new designs for our children’s hands and lips, working to enhance the ridges in the brain that help to discern and process olfactory signals. They wrote code while the future slept in its fleshly rooms, reprogramming the cells for stunted growth, perfectly proportioned for the work that lay ahead. Where some might have seen deformity, we saw beauty: sons and daughters walking orchard rows, crawling between cornstalks and vineyard grapes, scaling almond trees whose cupped blossoms waited to be filled with our answers. The children stopped at each bloom, stooped with fingers shaped like paintbrushes, caressing silky petals as grains of pollen caught against their skin, enough static so this precious dusting wouldn’t fall away until they delivered it to a flower of our choosing.
Todd Davis is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Winterkill andIn the Kingdom of the Ditch, both published by Michigan State University Press. He is a fellow in the Black Earth Institute and a professor of environmental studies and creative writing at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College. More about Todd and his work can be found at www.todddavispoet.com.