Nothing Beside Remains

I wrote this for Brave New Words Legacy slam. Their focus was on what we leave behind. When it’s being studied at exam level they’ll recommend you read Percy Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’, a great poem about legacy, to see where I pinched lines – I mean, paid homage to a poetic master. It was performed gorgeously at the slam by actress Orla Sanders. Seriously, I wish I could gift you her performance of it. Anyway, enjoy 🙂

***

When we’re gone,

When we’re all gone –

When we’re fried by solar radiation

Or nuclear irradiation;

When something like the heart of a star

Pops too close to our

Little blue glass marble world

And scours the surface clean;

When we’re hurled into a brand new scene

Of constellations

On our tiny planetary space station

As we make our way around the Milky Way –

(I say we, I don’t mean we,

I mean where we used to be,

Where the cluster of dust that used to be us

Is barely a memory)

What is left of humanity?

What is our legacy?

What would be seen

By a traveller from an antique land?

Our buildings, our cities,

Chewed up by trees,

Crumbled into forest fuel;

Our great stories forgotten;

Our languages rotten;

Our continents gone walkabout

On this brave new old world;

What survives us

When the earth sighs and stretches back

Into the cramped spaces stolen by humanity?

Because we couldn’t just go quietly

And leave the space free,

As we found it.

We’ve left our vast and trunkless legs to stand

In the future desert:

We’ve found our immortality.

We’ve sown a new strata in our soil,

And it swirls like a soup in our seas;

Lining the bellies of beasts,

So their stomachs will outlive them, poisoned, preserved,

For whatever set of opposable thumbs

Digs into this earth after us

And uncovers,

Discovers our legacy.

Professors will study the Age of Plastic,

And chart the line of our mass-produced extinction.

There’ll be great debate

About the last of the great apes;

How will those future minds

Circle that square?

A people smart enough to tap the black bone soup

Of our own dead titans,

But stupid enough to sip from that same

Disposable picnic spoon.

They’ll study, but they won’t see

The lessons from our history

As they send their workers down underground

To dig in the plastic mines

And bring up those twice-buried, twice-cursed ancient bones,

That filled our world like ghosts,

Unseen, unnoticed, unvalued,

Used, abused and thrown away,

Out of sight and out of our minds.

We will be survived by our synthetics,

Undead, undying and ready to rise,

To scrawl across our little

Blue-glass marble world:

“Humanity was here.”

So take up your used water bottle

Pick up your one-shot coffee cup

Save your supermarket salad pot

Your straws

Your cellophane

Your sticky tape

Your smart phone

And your polystyrene packaging

And carve on each and every one:

“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

And know that when we’re gone,

When we’re all gone,

Your words will still be there.

(C) Amy Sutton 2017

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