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Wednesday, July 14, 2010


by Robert M. Chute

a footnote on climate change

We began with the cuneiform tablets
     from the dig's lowest level
but it took longest to decipher
     the last, the uppermost.
The tablet was clear and unbroken but
     we found the meaning obscure —
until the soil's chemistry confirmed
     what had been speculation:
it recorded the year the earthworms died
     as the long drought continued.
In older tablets we'd learned how yields
     of wheat and barley declined,
how the prices of grain and beer
     had continued to rise
as emigration turned to evacuation, policy
     born of necessity.
We admired this historic example of
     bureaucracy's resilience,
envisioning the chief scribe
     turning back to say:
Will the last one out of the city please
     vitrify that tablet.

Robert M. Chute's book of poetry based on scientific articles, Reading Nature, is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.