The measure of extinction
“A physicist is just an atom’s way of looking at itself.”
One million matters to humans only
because we have ten fingers, usually, and so
invented base ten and so thrill each time
the odometer spills like so much oil into the river:
one at a time 9,9,9,9,9, droop, droop, droop, to all zeroes
but that precious 1! of accomplishment, of self,
of mattering. No mind the smattering of insects
on the windshield. No notice that the splattering
has grown negligible, never noticed the change,
it was so gradual, but suddenly,
we are at that moment
the odometer is full of nines,
and we have nowhere to go
One million means incomprehensible, means
can’t count that high, means meaninglessly high.
The scientists say extinction is “accelerating,”
but exponents just compound the confounding
of the quotidian mind, which can only understand
like the day I hit a baby owl.
I pulled over, found it on the shoulder, broken-necked.
It looked alive, but dead;
looked stuffed, but limp, and warm.
No blood or bruise. All pristine white feathers.
Exquisite body in my two hands.
When it didn’t come back to life, I tried to discern its spirit.
To this day, I don’t know what species it was.
To this day, I regret.
But still I drive.
Cover image by Daniil Silantev