1119: A Black Doe in the Anthropocene by Artress Bethany White

20240516 Slowdown

1119: A Black Doe in the Anthropocene by Artress Bethany White


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

At a dinner party, a new friend brought up the many poems she had been reading about the outsized impact human beings had on the planet. The whole table became wrapped up in a discussion of our entrance into this new era, The Anthropocene.

Turns out the bar is high, very high, when it comes to naming a new geologic time scale. Several weeks later, a New York Times article announced scientists were not ready to officially grant humans their own epoch. We are still in the “Holocene,” a period after the ice age that led to radical shifts in sea levels due to retreating glaciers.

Here is my ignorance; I thought we settled the matter of the “Anthropocene” a long time ago. Isn’t there enough conclusive evidence? Wars, loss of biodiversity, overpopulation, endangered species, deforestation, earth warming, greenhouse gasses, the production of nonbiodegradable materials, nuclear waste that further threatens wildlife, human beings, and agricultural lands. But, as one scientist noted, “Human impact goes much deeper into geological time.”

Today’s poem points to a violence that belies our psychological demise, tying it to that of our planet.

A Black Doe in the Anthropocene
by Artress Bethany White

	   after Buffalo and Uvalde

I only wanted to see the plantation where my forebears trod,
place my feet in the footprints of enslaved lives
Let’s just walk through the woods to see it
I whispered, in a flash forgetting the nature of guns
and people in towns where weapons are primed
in every room, under pillows, in picture frames
beyond the limpid gaze of a pair of deer eyes.

Forgetting, as soon as my sneakers
sifted needled pine
I would become a black doe
in the Anthropocene
fighting to see without being seen.

And when the landowner appeared 
in a black pickup truck 
draped in camo to defend his property,
I felt the “ask” of a peek at manor history
die in my chest like payback unpaid.

What is it about camouflage and tactical gear
that recalls white sheets and a racist’s deadly sneer.

Breaking News woos with pain
but there is no romance in the sound
of a body hitting the floor 
or children crying behind a closed door.
No intellect in the mechanics of a gun,
or two young men counting bodies
making life a video game for fun.
The only prize here, their own demise;
tok tik with nothing to remit.
A high school and college dropout
stealing grandmothers, grandfathers,
children and dreams. Then a boy
pauses to tell me young men now think 
college is a waste of time and my mind
screams, and screams, and screams.

My ancestors lived through the Middle Passage
the breeding of their bodies and the crack
of cowhide. Were weaned on seeing their 
own mothers’ breasts in the mouths of 
children who didn’t drop from between
their raised brown knees. Swallowed 
venom clogging their throats mingled
with dust under burning suns and now
students can’t study the pages of race
history, our only survival legacy.
If those ancestors were here today to speak
truth to this murderous shame, the words
would roll through the trees and over the plains
Behold the lilies, throw down the guns,
Behold the lilies, throw down the guns.

"A Black Doe in the Anthropocene" by Artress Bethany White. Used by permission of the poet.