Letter to America: Poem by Todd Davis

Letter to America by Todd Davis

One Poem

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In the Garden

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 DavisTodd Davis is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Winterkill and In 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.

Read poetry by Todd Davis previously appearing in Terrain.org: one poem and three poems.

Header photo of bee and sunflower by Christian Birkholz, courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.