Mary Mackey





Witness

there were once beasts called elephants
when one could not get food
the others fed her
they were taken for their tusks
which were made into bracelets and piano keys
and their feet, which were made into footstools
the seals were made into hats and coats
the salmon were fished out of the rivers
and eaten
the ostriches were taken for plumes for hats
the giraffes became seat covers

there were once trees
older than our oldest cities
with trunks as thick 
as the pillars of temples
near the end people tried to save them
by sitting in the tops
but they were forced down
and the trees became plywood

Swordfish were served in fine homes
on long polished tables
covered with exotic sauces
bones of wild mules were
ground up for glue

Mostly it happened by accident
no one meant to get rid of the frogs
at night they used to sing so loudly
we had to shout over the sound of them
and then one summer they sang softly
and then one summer they stopped singing
the honeybees died of some kind of virus
and then the crops failed
and the fruit trees stopped bearing 
and a great silence spread over the fields

small things died
things we hardly noticed:
wild grasses
obscure fish
plants that didn’t flower
bacteria
tiny brown birds
a kind of grasshopper that only lived in Africa
a plant that grew high up in a tree in the Amazon
where no human being had ever seen it
a biting gnat that people were glad to see go
clothes moths
a Siberian squirrel
some weeds along the side of the freeway
some silly-looking thing that lived in the sand
that the curlews ate
some tiny green plankton that floated in the sea
that no one knew about

soon only the oldest of us could remember
a time when we woke to the humming of the locusts
when a coyote danced in the sagebrush
a beaver felled a tree
a rhinoceros bathed in the mud
and wild roses bloomed in the ditches beside the roads

on summer evenings 
large birds
used to cross the thin golden plate of the sun

in the forests 
the whippoorwills sang all night long