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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 14, 2017.
About this Poem 

“Despite the environmental panic that’s now at the heart of this poem, it began as a simple meditation on shifting landscapes. Each time I go home to visit family, I notice how much more has changed: new roads, new stores, bigger buildings. The poem sought to consider these types of changes which can be subtle and barely noticeable, or—when viewed after a significant period of time has passed—immense and stunning.”
—Matthew Olzmann

Letter to Someone Living Fifty Years from Now

Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,
the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations
of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.

It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing
but benzene, mercury, the stomachs
of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic. 

You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,
but I assure you we were.

We still had the night sky back then,
and like our ancestors, we admired
its illuminated doodles
of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.

Absolutely, there were some forests left!
Absolutely, we still had some lakes!

I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.
There were bees back then, and they pollinated
a euphoria of flowers so we might
contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,
“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”   

And then all the bees were dead.

Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann is the author of Contradictions in the Design (Alice James Books, 2016). He lives in North Carolina.

by this poet

poem

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed

for children walking to school? 
Those same children

also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing

on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs

2
poem

“Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.”
—Reuters, 8/24/2011

Like the universe’s largest engagement ring, it twirls
and sparkles its way through infinity.

poem

No longer satisfied by the way time slips
through his life’s work, the maker
of hourglasses yearns for a change.

He elects to construct a staircase instead.
Rather than grains of sand,
he’ll manufacture one stair after another
to lament every transient second.

Look at it now! It