Ellen Bass – The Big Picture

Ellen Bass (June 16, 1947 -)

I try to look at the big picture. 
The sun, ardent tongue
licking us like a mother besotted
with her new cub, will wear itself out. 
Everything is transitory.
Think of the meteor
that annihilated the dinosaurs.
And before that, the volcanoes
of the Permian period — all those burnt ferns
and reptiles, sharks and bony fish —
that was extinction on a scale
that makes our losses look like a bad day at the slots.
And perhaps we’re slated to ascend
to some kind of intelligence
that doesn’t need bodies, or clean water, or even air.
But I can’t shake my longing
for the last six hundred
Iberian lynx with their tufted ears,
Brazilian guitarfish, the 4
percent of them still cruising
the seafloor, eyes staring straight up.
And all the newborn marsupials —
red kangaroos, joeys the size of honeybees — steelhead trout, river dolphins,
all we can save
so many species of frogs 
breathing through their 
damp permeable membranes.
Today on the bus, a woman
in a sweater the exact shade of cardinals,
and her cardinal-colored bra strap, exposed
on her pale shoulder, makes me ache 
for those bright flashes in the snow. 
And polar bears, the cream and amber
of their fur, the long, hollow
hairs through which sun slips,
swallowed into their dark skin. When I get home,
my son has a headache and, though he’s 
almost grown, asks me to sing him a song. 
We lie together on the lumpy couch
and I warble out the old show tunes, “Night and Day”… 
“They Can’t Take That Away from Me”… A cheap 
silver chain shimmers across his throat
rising and falling with his pulse. There never was 
anything else. Only these excruciatingly 
insignificant creatures we love.