Thursday, May 4, 2017

5/4/17

The Cry of Methuselah
By Jonathan DeCoteau


For five-thousand years, I’ve stood sentry in a pale desert forest of bristlecone pine,
Situated between sisters of equal years, watching the great mobile ape that is mankind—
Indifferently—
as the sloping neck of an ambling black bear might a hill of sagebrush to the right.
My gnarled tongue of white density reaches to Mesopotamian heights,
Shaping words lost to scattering seeds of time as the occasional cloud
fingers its wispy way through the rock-like cobalt of an ancient sky.

Oh, yes, I have spoken words of such weight they rattled the stabbing white plumes of a condor in flight,
Yet they have gone unheard; smashed against cloud and rained upon granite peaks of forgotten night.
Alien you are to me, harbingers of a lesser earth:
You move constantly, yet go nowhere, dig incessantly, yet ply no roots,
conquer sky, only to fall back to stale and lifeless dirt.
I thought you like a squirrel or rat nosing about foliage that is not your own,
Overturning purple sky pilots on the rainbow-bloom of ridge,
Careless children of fumbling feet and eyes sewn shut at the lids.
I have been patient as a grandmother watching little ones play,
Crying out be gentle to each other as you turned stone to spear
And fashioned war paint from my sacred clay,
Giving of the earth to you as I might to a passing family of deer—
Yet you dug deeper, searching for the iron you use to kill
And now, in the last one-hundred years, the story my brothers and sisters the world over tell—
Of the putrefying air that stains our barks,
Of weapons that create endless fires that might decimate all life—all life!—after just one spark.
And now, the seasons through which I’ve measured what you call years, change,
almost imperceptibly at first, but now as loud as bighorn rams
sharpening antlers against crumbling shale.
The wind is not the mistress I once knew, nor is the light—
The sky is more sallow, and the winds betray infidelities with strange chemicals that poison
Lakes older than you were when you hung from the maternal branches of trees
That once sheltered your species like makeshift nurseries.
And now, my tangled roots tell me of my own demise—
In just one-hundred short years, I will not be able to speak; in another hundred, I will die.

I’ve almost given up playing prophet to you, scurrying animals who proclaim your blinding sapience
as you search the stars when you cannot even listen to the beating heart of your own Earth.
Did you consider that, from what algae tell me, whales and dolphins are superior intellectually?
Did you even think, in your child-like hubris, that there might be a sacred wisdom to the plant?
Did it even occur to you that you are not separate—that everything on this planet has life?
For five thousand years my brothers and sisters and I have talked in peace,
And while we’ve competed for the last silver sliver of sun on the edge of a glacial mountain,
Never have we killed one another in wanton abandon.
Learn from us, and you might live on.

In the blue desert night, I worry: what of when my sisters and I are gone?
Who will inherit the mantle and carry earth on?
Like all prophets, I must speak, even as my words are incomplete:
Learn, my lost children, from what it is to be a tree.
Never fly so far that you lose your roots, which spread like arteries
reaching to the buried heart of soil to remind you that only the earth is immortal.
Know what it is, even for a day, to really experience,
as you might through needles or leaves, painfully, all that life is,
From the tiniest burrowing black beetle to the midnight ocean’s most ancient crustacean—
Life is beauty, and it has its own way.
If only each one of you could sit upon the heights of desert, as I do, for five thousand years,
When the earth is all there is, all there ever will be, when you stand in complete dependency,
You’d find it impossible to think of yourself as separate, or above, even the smallest atom.
Isn’t it obvious from my words, those of a mother scolding her wayward child—
I am in love with all that is, and that includes even you, strange squirrels?
It is my prayer that sometime, maybe in the next thousand years,
you’ll discover not just how plants communicate,
but how to stand still and listen to all that is.
It might not be so bad to return to our branches as when you were monkeys
And remind yourself of what it is to be vulnerable
As a shrieking baby hung above a hungry incongruity of yellow-fanged wolves.
But to you I am just a tree, a quirk of nature, yours to cut down,
an obstacle in the path of yet another highway to nowhere,
A stupid, mute creature not cognizant of life.
So you will not listen to my words;
You will be willfully deaf to Nature’s song.

But I am a tree
And to be a tree is to be strong and patient as the first cold of dusk—
And so for the next hundred years at least
I shall cry out; I shall become the element of voice.
And as you fly to the dead basalt rock of Mars or take in the great, swirling red eye of Jupiter,
Think of the miracle of this supposedly small and common Earth.
And after you fly so many millions of miles you can’t count them all,
Return home, to our nestled branches, on a beautiful day in Fall—
Where peace comes from togetherness,
Where you have always belonged,
Where you will always be a part of all that is,
As we rock you to sleep singing the same ancient song.


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Jonathan DeCoteau is a teacher and the author of one published novel, The Naked Earth, named 2008 Book of the Year by The Online Journal of News and Current Affairs. His work has been published in Reader's Quarterly and The Story Shack. This is his first foray into science fiction.

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