Human Habitat

by Alison Hawthorne Deming, 1946

Read by Emma Rye

Some did not want to alter the design
when the failure message
said massive problem with oxygen.
Some wanted to live full tilt with risk.

By then we were too weak for daily chores:
feeding chickens, hoeing yams,
calibrating pH this and N2 that . . .
felt like halfway summiting Everest.

We didn’t expect the honeybees
to die. Glass blocked the long-wave
light that guides them.
Farm soil too rich in microbes

concrete too fresh ate the oxygen.
We had pressure problems,
recalibrating the sniffer.  Bone tired
I reread Aristotle by waning light.

Being is either actual or potential.
The actual is prior to substance.
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,
Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood.

I leafed through Turner’s England,
left the book open at Stonehenge.
A shepherd struck by lightning lies dead,
dog howling, several sheep down too.

The painter gave gigantic proportion
to sulphurous god rimmed clouds
lightning slashing indigo sky
while close at hand lie fallen stones

dead religion, pages dusty
brown leaf shards gathering
in the gutter yet I cannot turn the page
wondering what I am and when

in the story of life my life is taking place.
Now what.  No shepherd. No cathedral.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?

Retrieved from: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/human-habitat