Bristlecone twist upon twist, layer upon layer, like fingers
of the crone or braids of her mother, reaching for the sky.
Cold air, hot sun. High desert survivor
dared erosions and fires, needed only a few small strips
of bark to stay alive, outlive them all.
But 5000 years were undone in one afternoon.
We want to know, to name.
We are Machiavellian in this pursuit.
Prometheus stole fire from the gods, carried it
in giant fennel stalk, gifted it to humans.
For this, he was bound to a rock, his liver to be eagle-eaten
every day, regrow at night and be eaten again.
To understand the brain’s hemispheres, we cut the corpus collosum.
To learn the spread of virus, we cull the herd, open skulls.
To know the oldest, we bored the bark,
failed, then cut and sectioned, hauled and processed.
Counted rings, counted time. Only then did we understand
the ignorance and arrogance.
Still, we kept one slab at Ely casino, then convention center.
Respect reserved for the lab or the field, now national park
in part because scientist-cum-lumberjack pushed
to protect remaining pine, hobble the folly
of men, like him, believing they need to know,
no matter the damnation, no matter the pain.
Update: Bourbeau’s poem “Prometheus Felled” is now part of her 2023 collection of poetry, Monarch, forthcoming from Cornerstone Press. You can find a copy of her book here.
Heather Bourbeau’s fiction and poetry have been published in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly Review, Cleaver, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Short Édition, The Cardiff Review, and The Stockholm Review of Literature. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she is the winner of La Piccioletta Barca’s inaugural competition and Chapman University Flash Fiction winner. She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia.
This piece is a part of South Broadway Press’ March issue, Language of the Earth.