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poetry Earth Shovel

“The thing about the universe,” writes poet Dan Albergotti, “is that it seems infinite, but really it’s only a ceaseless series of extinctions.”

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Earth Shovel

By Dan Albergotti

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us 

. . .  a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam . . .

the only home we’ve ever known.

                                    —Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (1994)

            Drill, baby, drill!

              —Michael Steele, 2008 Republican National Convention

Photographed from 18,000 miles in 1972, Earth had the look

of a marble, or so people said. Eighteen years later, we shot it again,

this time from 3.7 billion miles when Voyager 1, still travelling at

40,000 miles per hour, was nearly done with this solar system that

occupies a tiny bit of real estate in the known universe. A dot

is what we called it then, pale and blue. A pinprick that’s

difficult to make out against its black backdrop of void. Here

we are, on that dot, waving goodbye to Voyager 1. And that’s

that, I suppose. Now, 28 years later and five miles from home,

huge earth movers are clawing at the ground at a site that’s

being prepped. When we ask what for, no one can tell us.

The sound of the heavy machinery has already become a

curtain of ambient noise dropped over our days. When a mote

of some black substance swirls in the light-gray glass of

water I pour from the sink, I shrug. The porch is covered in dust.

I drive my car by the grace of plants and animals suspended

in the Earth’s crust for a hundred million years, cooked in

a sort of clay pot by pressure and heat. But that’s about to be a

chapter of the past. Fifty or sixty years at most. By then a sunbeam

will power our cars and hoverbikes. Or simply fall on our ashes. The

thing about the universe is that it seems infinite, but really it’s only

a ceaseless series of extinctions. I think about that on the drive home.

Over five billion species have been here. 99.9% are gone. We’ve

been here about an hour on Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar. Have you ever

thought about that? Last week a guy at the bar said, I ain’t known

about none of that. All I know’s we’ll have plenty of oil if we just drill

down deep enough. Today two friends showed me their new baby.

They were happy, as if they expect a world for her. This is not a drill.

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008), Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), and Of Air and Earth (Unicorn Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, Crazyhorse, Five Points, The Southern Review, The Best American Poetry, and The Pushcart Prize, as well as other journals and anthologies. He is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University.