Via Negativa

by Susanna Donato

Remember honeybees, each flying inch of activity, powdery saddlebags fluffed with pollen. The wild bees, their tiny hovers of black and green, are my favorites, but I will miss honey.

Remember cheap overseas flights, when you could bring baggage, when you’d never heard of carbon offsets, when you didn’t know every contrail melted the ice caps, a magnifying lens over a penguin.

Remember when you didn’t feel so guilty all the time.

Remember choosing to spawn, fucking for fecundity, joyful animal bodies unburdened by any suggestion that your baby might teem with microplastics before it was fully formed.

Remember when you could drive to the movies five minutes before showtime, ask for two seats, and the girl told you the price, and you paid and went in. When you could still decide things in a moment, instead of punching your plans into your palm-sized device to snatch the tickets from everyone else, how seldom you’d have that sinking, distraught missing out feeling when you choose something but too late, and the girl says, I only have one seat left, you stupid, stupid fuck, although she doesn’t say the last words with her mouth, only with her eyes.

Remember falling in love.

Remember when blue jays didn’t come west of the Kansas border—the Audubon bird book, 1977 edition, has the map—and then remember the morning in 2006 when you heard a call in the trees like a reedy whistle, and you and your daughter paused beside your Prius to peer into the neighbors’ weeping birch, trying to figure out what creature made that sound, and now they are ordinary flashes of blue in the cherry tree.

Remember baths, filling a tub with hot water straight from the tap and so clear, soaking until it got cold or adding more hot water if you liked.

Speaking of water, remember when the proverb about a frog in a boiling pot didn’t make you clutch at your children.

Remember when you’d never seen city streets clouded with smoke from summer fires, when spring and fall weren’t variations on a theme: earthquake, tidal wave, hurricane, flood.

Remember when you didn’t have seven hundred “friends” to ask a question, even if you still got no answer.

Remember the clouds, if anything better than ever now, white and fluffy, towering and lead ballasted, streaky, or deep blue gray with striations like the riffles on a bowl of instant pudding.

Remember when you could go camping, or anywhere, to the mall, a concert, school, and it was highly unlikely that anyone would shoot you, or anyone.

Remember road trips, gas a buck a gallon in a rattletrap that you parallel parked with your eyes and no camera. Every accident an opportunity for someone who needed a donor organ. Now, replace the tires, displace a clouded leopard or yellow-cheeked gibbon. Bats flap their way toward a shape on the horizon.

Remember the Derwent River sea star, golden toad, West African black rhino. The black-faced honeycreeper and the rusty grebe. Salamander, grasshopper, orangutan. Their names ricochet off the tongue like a snapped rubber band.

Remember when there was no sous vide or molecular cuisine, and the nicest thing you could think of was to choose between chocolate and butterscotch pudding, a dollop of whipped cream on top, maybe chocolate chips if your grandma was feeling extravagant.

Remember when you didn’t have to know chocolate comes from child slave labor.

I hope you remember the ways of hope. I hope the cardinals follow the blue jays west, something red to replace the Hollywood finches that will have flown away.

I hope you remember the isopods, busy at their eternal labor, so ubiquitous we have more names for them than for God: roly-poly, pill bug, woodlouse, chisel pig. Chanchito de tierra, slater, pissebed. When we are gone, and the trees are gone, and the clouds have turned to plastic, the Armadillidium will toil in the soil to make us all one. Spade up the earth—for they remember you.

Susanna Donato is a Denver-based writer whose essays have appeared in Proximity, Electric Literature’s Okey-Panky, The Manifest-Station, and elsewhere. Her poems and experimental work have appeared in Entropy and the What Rough Beast online series. Her work in progress includes a book-length memoir, The Only Girl in the Record Store, and a prose poem/dreamoir chapbook called Lavatoria: Dreams of Shame. She has studied at Tin House Summer Writers Workshop and completed the Lighthouse Writers Book Project.