The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Endling: A Poem

I turned the corner one afternoon to find my neighborhood grocer gone. No warning, just gone — padlocked and boarded off, closed for good, a long chain of habit suddenly severed.

We know that entropy drags everything toward dissolution, that life is a vector pointed at loss, but how rarely we realize that the lasts are last, how staggering the turning of those corners. The friend you embrace in a casual parting not knowing it is the final farewell. The lover you kiss not knowing you will never touch again. Your mother answering the phone in a voice you’ve known forever, a voice you don’t know you will never again hear.

Even science has tenderness for these unbidden finalities in its term for the last known survivor of a species: endling — an end abrupt yet somehow endearing in its smallness, its particularity, in the way a tragedy so vast and collective can culminate on the minute scale of the individual, the scale on which our lives ultimately unfold.

And so, a poem:

by Maria Popova

Unspooling from a reel
in the sound archive
of the British Library
is the syncopating chirp of
the last Moho braccatus
a small Hawaiian bird
     now extinct.

After centuries of humans
silenced the species
     with civilization,
after a hurricane
killed the last female
     in 1982,
he alone was left
to sing the final song
     of his kind —
a mating call for
a world void of mate.

In ten billion years,
the Sun will burn out.
In a hundred billion,
the galaxies will drift apart
and take away the light,
leaving the night sky
black as the inside
     of a skull.
In time,
all the energy
of the cosmos
will dissipate
until none is left
     to succor life
as the universe goes on expanding
     into eternity.

Somewhere along the way,
there will have been a creature
to think the last thought
and feel the last feeling
and sing the last song
     of life.

And it will have been beautiful,
this brief movement of being
in the silent symphony
     of forever,
and it will have been merciful
that only hindsight
ever knows
     each last.

Published February 16, 2024




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