in Environment by

Nearly illegible, these boreal forests.
Crabbed hieroglyphs in charcoal deposits
serve as proxy as we core and trace cold lakescapes
for evident losses of the steady state.

Twice per human lifetime, a scorching rash
of budworms deadwoods every spruce
and true fir in the regular stands.
Blooms of urgent moths die heaped in carparks

and in waxy drifts across Quebec lakes,
the membranes and sockets drying
and releasing wing scales as they go, to coalesce
in shimmering astral belts across

the water’s skin and lastly down
to where their submission is logged in mud
and extracted from every inch
of the long deposition.

Sorted with a finer mesh,
the old fragments come up broken,
crumpled or covered,
and we can just make out enough

of the whole scales—the delicate leavings
of a countable species—to be certain
of the outbreak and confirm
the unhappy abundance.


Poet’s Note: This poem uses fragments of this scientific article, linked below:

Girona, M.M., Navarro, L. & Morin, H. 2018. A Secret Hidden in the Sediments: Lepidoptera Scales. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, published online January 26, 2018; doi: 10.3389/fevo.2018.00002


A secret hidden in the sediments: Lepidoptera scales [Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution]
Ministry of Forests watching spruce beetle outbreak in context of climate change [Quesnel Cariboo Observer]
Environmentalists ringing alarm bells over ailing Czech forests [Radio Praha]
Forest loss in one part of US can harm trees on the opposite coast [Science Daily]

EJ Shu is an Australian-Canadian writer of poetry, nonfiction, short stories and libretti. Her work has appeared in various periodicals and small press anthologies in Australia and the US. She makes her home on the north west coast of Tasmania.

Image by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel, entitled “Sunset Moth Scales Macro.”