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Pterodactyl Rose: Poems of Ecology

by William Heyen


Emancipation Proclamation

Whereas it minds its own business
& lives in its one place so faithfully
& its trunk supports us when we lean against it
& its branches remind us of how we think

Whereas it keeps no bank account but hoards carbon
& does not discriminate between starlings and robins
& provides free housing for insects & squirrels
& lifts its heartwood grave into the air

Whereas it holds our firmament in place
& writes underground gospel with its roots
& whispers us oxygen with its leaves
& may not survive its new climate of ultraviolet

We the people for ourselves & our children
necessarily proclaim this tree
free from commerce & belonging to itself
as long as it & we shall live.


In the title poem of Pterodactyl Rose, the speaker tells us that when he peers into his rearview mirror, he imagines the air behind him filling with the bodies of those ancient creatures his engine is burning. He says he is wild with prayer and longing, as we all are, entering a century that may determine whether mankind will have a long tenure on this planet or will be just another vanished species. In poem after poem here, Heyen probes the roots of our unprecedented ecological crisis and carries us with him.


Now, in its mature range, William Heyen's voice has taken on the burden of knowing that the worst losses are not the ones behind us, but rather the ones directly ahead — the losses, that is, to the biosphere, that threaten its very viability. . . . Heyen's recent poetry . . . a ddresses our question of questions: "Can we imagine, are we capable of imagining, our survival on this earth?"
— Jarold Ramsey, author of Reading the Fire: The Traditional Indian Literature of the Far West