But how else would we know we lived, they say.
If not for the tatters, the ruins, the dregs. The bones in the dust, the blown-out walls, the holes and craters and stricken rebar. The carrion for the vultures, the orange rivers, the three-eyed fish, the rivers no more.
How else would we know, they say, that we were strong and in charge of everything, counting dollars and shares, and before that, gold—going back to the beginning of commerce when getting more than was due was better than getting nothing at all. And all we did was make the transaction better, so much better, they say. And more efficient. And more profitable. Look what we took, developed, sold, got rid of. Look how we grow. Growth, they say. They use the word growth.
What they don’t say is, “Look at the bees.” Look at them there, on the dandelions, lit by a sunbeam, climbing and crawling and puttering and buzzing. “Puttering” is a word they don’t know and don’t use because it is not suitable for desks and deals and jets.
How else would we know, they say, that we could take over, take every drop, suck it dry, heave it out, roll it over, strip it bare with our pipes and drills, to make space for glass and steel and concrete and waste, for gilt-edged portraits and green golf courses and marble mansions to be envied.
How would we know we were alive and stronger and better than everyone else, better than everything else, better and stronger and more clever, if not for the grass under our feet—ours—and the sky overhead—ours—and the slurping oceans—ours—and the veins and seams of slick and heady power, liquid money, in the ground—ours. All of it ours, of course. We are alive, they say—shrilly, desperately—when we can see what is ours.
The bees. Not ours, they shrug. Not important. Look at them, just buzzing away, fainter now. Perhaps there are fewer of them on the dandelions.
They continue to press. Trying to be logical now.
How would we know, they say…
But by now you know. You know how this works. You can speak for them. Native peoples—theirs. Culture—theirs. Land—theirs. Nature—theirs.
Natives, impassive. Culture, gutted. Land, looted. Nature, laughed at. That’s how it works.
And it’s also what scares them the most, deep down. People go on, unimpressed. Culture lives, even in the head. Land redraws itself like the river finding the canyon. Nature doesn’t need them.
And they find they aren’t actually stronger.
Their dollar signs are indifferent to them.
Their statues crumble like Ozymandias in the desert.
Their words are just words.
And the bees, placid yellow bodies against purple petals. The bees, they realize with a creeping despair, are the very center, the thing just beyond them (despite them, without them) signifying all that is real.
But—as they pout and slam their fists and sputter—but…how else would we know we lived unless everything else is dead?