They never learned to tell
one bird from another, a shrub

from a weedy sapling,
or when the season had

forced a flower’s bloom, not
even if a berry

had ripened into poison.
And yet they drew endless

distinctions between
colors and polish and

coarseness of weave,
and would not let

their daughters
marry out.

They didn’t keep
their children, though they

gave them tests and fed
them. They were known

for meticulous records, for
their trophies and peeling stars.

They burned things up
or wore them down, had ranks

and staff and lecterns,
machines that moved them

from place to place, bright
jewels and playing cards.

They were old when they could
have been young, and young

when they could have been old.
They left a strange word

in a tree: croatoan,
and a track in the dust of Mars.