With life, legged and finned, Earth had been teeming,
Slitherers, predators, graceful trees tall …
Now, of these species, we are only dreaming:
Glossopteris, trilobites, eurypterids, all.
Creatures of intrigue, lords of the past!
How did they grow; their color, what hue?
Why did some perish, and why did some last?
In Earth’s litholibrary, sometimes a clue.
Catastrophe beautifully carved into stone,
Graveyards ‘neath graveyards, so deep do we ply,
Silent yet eloquent, shadows of bone,
The greatest extinction, the big one – but why?
Deserts and oceans spanned latitudes wide,
Lava erupted as oceans of fire,
What means of death? It’s hard to decide:
Heat, acid, darkness, a host of things dire.
Yet from these strange ashes (if ashes they be)
Life rose up gorgeously, brilliantly new!
From lucky survivors, a vast, branching tree;
Some tendrils persisted, and weird, wild things grew!
Time is the key to death and new life,
And time can lie hidden, awaiting fresh eyes.
A haze of uncertainty, cut with a knife –
From zircon in China, chronologies rise!
To stand at the Permo-Triassic, it seems,
One faces a shockingly sharp, razor brink;
Of rapid events, the Meishan bed screams …
The “Great Dying” flew by in a mere cosmic blink.
An extinction in the blink of an eye, MIT News, 2/10/14
Earth’s Greatest Killer Finally Caught, LiveScience, 12/12/13
This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. You can read more on Allen’s website.