By Marie Howe
Recorded by author
Note: Due to website limitations, poem line breaks will not be right on all screens, particularly narrow ones. To see the poet’s intended version, please click the Print Friendly button. Or try turning your phone or tablet to landscape orientation.
What we did to the earth we did to our daughters
one after the other.
What we did to the trees we did to our elders
stacked in their wheelchairs by the lunchroom door.
What we did to our daughters, we did to our sons
calling out for their mothers.
What we did to the trees, what we did to the earth
we did to our sons, to our daughters.
What we did to the cow, to the pig, to the lamb,
we did to the earth, butchered and milked it.
Few of us knew what the bird calls meant
or what the fires were saying
We took of earth and took and took, and the earth
seemed not to mind
until one of our daughters shouted: it was right
In front of you Mom, right in front of your eyes
And you didn’t see,
The air turned red. The ocean grew teeth.
Marie Howe is the author of four volumes of poetry: Magdalene: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2017); The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among other literary magazines.