Earth Obituary

Born four and a half billion years ago from flecks of matter, particles of helium, the teeth of gravity, dust, light, ghosts, and ice, she married the sun, bore children from wind and plankton, tethered herself to the hearth with the rearing of men and mice and fruit. Her bosom was full of water and her belly full of wild trout. Her hands were home to the larvae of dragonflies, her toes to the bulbs of daffodils; she lived nestled in the ether of the goldilocks zone, a habitable distance from the hot stars. Comfort, she was fond of saying while drunk on the tune of a fiddle playing from a rooftop in a city that erupted from the pores of her skin, paves the way for struggle. In her crueler moments she disrupted the pretty lives of men with a caning of hard rain or a mean pinch between her plates. And who knew more of comfort and struggle than she who had absorbed the final, desperate sleeps of babies and kings?

She was everything, said one companion, the Black Night, at the services. She was cypress and swans, she was strata and ecstasy, she was blue doors and the first trickle of a water clock, she was the sound of one kettle whistling in a cold hut on a mountain in Sichuan—and she will be sorely missed. The moon spoke tenderly at her memorial. She invented longing, he said. And, I confess. I watched her undress each night. She was so radiant that I thought constantly of making love to her. He laughed nervously, and continued. Even when she was old, her rivers withered, she was still such a beautiful thing.

At the last benefit in her honor, watching an endless slide show of her younger days, Earth commented, They sure did learn to photograph me. She looked terrible, a starlet gone old, her glaciers thin, her waterways clogged, her air gray and sedimentary, her catacombs showing. She watched and laughed and drank. During a break between pictures, she took a long swallow from her glass of rubied port and remarked, All these photos and yet they never did see the invisible lives I had inside.   

Her departure occurred while her inhabitants slept, and its sound was so small it did not even ping in space. Death by warming, by cooling, by fleeting star, by gravitational perturbation, by rickets, by a critical imbalance in the number of rubbled villages on the slopes of her mountains . . . the autopsy rendered the cause of demise unclear. Her organs were removed and stored in secret urns so close to the mantel they may never be found. 

On her tomb, chosen from many submissions of fallen nations, reads, Earth, Beloved Mother. When the Sky Falls, Hold Up Your Hands. 

She is survived by eight siblings, a string of planets on which there are no modern barriers of any kind, a few pale valleys full of yellow pine and lost tanagers, and one ice floe skippered by a handful of Inuit and a blue butterfly they have vowed not to eat just in case she is a god. Entombed beneath the layers of silt on Saturn and the molten crayon wax of Jupiter, hidden inside the permafrost of Pluto, are ice castles, golden keys, dancing ladies, and sweet pears, flash-frozen from the night dreams of human children in case they are ever needed again. And, pecked from a bit of leaf litter by a hermit thrush, carried on one of the last earthly winds, stuck to the side panel of a satellite, caught in a flare on the eleventh day of what would have been a December, lies an improbable seed, throbbing in a hostile crevice, its violet face scrunched in an unearthly madness. Nothing can make me forget how to grow. 

 

Heather Altfeld is a poet and essayist. Her first book of poetry, The Disappearing Theatre (Poets at Work, 2016), won the Poets at Work Prize. Her work appears in Conjunctions, Narrative Magazine, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, the Los Angeles Review, and other literary journals. She currently teaches in the honors program and for the comparative religion and humanities department at California State University–Chico.