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What if, one day no different from the others
which in their trillions have come to pass
and passed away since energy’s first flare,
since the Creation, Introit of the Universe,
Big Bang, whichever myth you find consoles
the brain hurt by considering such distances;
what if, like morning mist in warming air,
we humans were one day to disappear?

I mean just us, the planet’s alpha males.
All other life remains. The species which stood up now falls
in some unique pandemic, or takes off into the sky —
a comprehensive Rapture which forgives us all.
The place we tended, forced and plundered echoes still
to calls of birds and beasts. Goldcrest and whale,
the rarest rhino and the common fly,
by us unhindered and unhunted, multiply.

Crops ripen till they rot where they were planted.
Blackened acres, bent before the wind,
are choked and toppled as the wilderness invades.
The work of centuries of our improving hand,
the grains return directly to the ground
where year by year they take their failing stand
against the vigour of uncultivated seeds.
Bramble and fern infringe the country roads.

Our settlements are silent, monochrome in dust,
their signs and images obscured, the meaning lost.
The tattered flags have nothing more to say.
Patiently, sunlight and rain, heatwave and frost
dismantle every structure we have built and leased
and grant their freehold to the dispossessed:
to creatures, plants and mould. A thousand years’ decay
matters not much, is but the twinkling of an eye

except for this: the brews we now distil
to vaunt our mastery of nature spill
and burn into the world we’ve left. An age-long harm
is done, unless some microbe, finding to its taste
the morsels of our stubbornest perverted waste
can make a supper of it, which may be the last
meal taken in the earth’s allotted time
until the sun consumes it and annihilates our crime.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington