Saturday Poem


The animals are dying.
All the beautiful women are dying too.

Elizabeth Kolbert writes you can see the sixth
mass extinction unraveling in your own backyard.
Out the fourteenth-story windows of the hotel
I watch as an unraveling of women
pull themselves from a small blue rectangle
to dry their skin. This must be the most
beautiful thing. First, women, and second, women
as a diorama of themselves. In a 1969 lecture available
online, physicist Albert Bartlett tells us, The greatest
shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand
the exponential function. Jenifer Wightman quotes this in
her paper
on bacterial pointillism, a type of painting technique whereby mud
is colonized by pigmented bacteria to produce an evolving color-
field of living pigment
s, a Rothko-like landscape whose subject is
generations of sequential doublings. Always there is what
scientists call
the background rate of extinction, that little death hum of
one to five
species per year, and today it’s
a thousand to ten thousand times that. They’re dying
before we know they exist. Can you see that? The hotel room rises
fourteen stories, 196 stories, 2,744 stories, and the women in
the pool
are multiplying into a Rothko painting. On the news, I watch
Syrian women haul bundled children through Aleppo’s
smoldering fossil. They are dying, as are their children.
Syrian mothers write appeals followed by farewells
on social media. Final message, one reads. I am very sad
no one is helping us in this world, no one is evacuating me &
my daughter,
goodbye. Blue is the opposite of red, oxygen molecules
binding to hemoglobin as a blue thing exposed
reddens. On the day after Christmas in 2015 the New York Times
a video of a twenty-seven-year-old Muslim woman in Kabul
accused of burning
the Quran. A male mob swells. The policemen stand back as
poles &
bricks are held above her. Then, at a certain velocity, lowered
to break her. It is hundreds of men crying Allahu Akbar
as she whimpers Allahu Akbar from the ground. I watch this video
stitched from cellphone footage on a tablet held
between my father’s hands. They kill her. They run
her over. They burn her against a stone wall on a riverbank.
She was never burning a Quran, anyone could’ve seen that.
A year later, I recall the video and in order to find it,
the specificities blurred by now, I type into the search bar
Muslim woman red scarf burning Quran.
Only midway through the video do I realize
her face is so blood-drenched I have in my memory replaced it
with a red scarf. In fact, by the time the men get to burning her,
her body is so blood-drenched they must use their own scarves
to light her. But those halving miracles
derived from her marrow, exponentially
going extinct against the stone wall on the riverbank—
I couldn’t. I didn’t. When the men burned her,
the policemen said, Be careful of the fire.
by Hannah Perrin King

from Narrative Magazine