A Poem by Patricia Davis-Muffett

Patricia Davis-Muffett

Patricia Davis-Muffett

Patricia Davis-Muffett (she/her) holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota. Her chapbook, Alchemy of Yeast and Tears, was published in spring 2023. Her work has won honors including Best of the Net nomination and second place in the 2024 Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest (selected by Marge Piercy), and appears in Best New Poets, Atlanta Review, Whale Road Review, Calyx and About Place, among others.


RED LIST: ten things critically endangered and declining

after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species

● White Abalone, Southern California to Baja California, Mexico; during the last three-generation period, populations in California have collapsed by more than 90%1

● Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle, four known animals, China and Vietnam2

● Variable Harlequin Frog, thought gone from Costa Rica after disappearing from the Tilaran

Mountains between 1990 and 1992; 23 individuals documented since 20043

● Bastard Quiver Tree, less than 200 individuals, Namibia4

● Hibiscus fragilis, 10 known plants found in the wild, Mauritius5

● Giant Pangasius, 99% or more decline over three generations, two subpopulations separated by Khone Falls, over which the fish do not appear to migrate, Laos6

● Mojave Desert Tortoise, 11 of the 17 subpopulations ranged from 26.6 to 64.7% decline in the 11 years from 2004 to 20147

● Dey’s Moon Lichen, 95 mature individuals left, North Carolina and Alabama8

● Bethany Beach firefly, occurs over just 33 sq. km in Delaware9

● Reports and studies that still offer hope10

1. How lonely is it, there in the sea, as populations thin with changes in ocean chemistry from combustion of fossil fuels, illegal fishing, harmful algae blooms and loss of kelp from elevated sea-surface temperatures? The abalone broadcast spawn–males releasing sperm, triggering gravid females to release their eggs. Still, at three meters apart–close enough for divers to see from one to the other–recruitment will fail. Lonely, lonely. No sign of successful recruitment in the wild for over thirty years.
2. In October 2020, a female was captured in Dong Mo Lake near Hanoi. Was she returned? Or was she captured and put in the same breeding program as the female bought by a traveling animal show at Suzhou market in the 1930s who died in 2018 in the Yangtze Zoo after laying clutch after clutch of infertile eggs?
3. “Is this where we stayed?” I asked, when we visited Tamarindo with our fresh vaccines in the height of the pandemic. It had become unrecognizable with its international chain restaurants and drunk college students clogging paved streets and new sidewalks. In 2000, it was a dusty crossroads, a place to sleep before hiking volcanoes, soaking in hot springs, trampling unseen harlequin frogs in fancy new boots.
4. What was the plant you searched for on your trek across the desert? Not this tree–something small and scrubby, blooming in the desert (Welwitschia?). Causes of decline: logging and wood harvesting; invasive alien species and diseases.
5. Hibiscus, flower of vacations, blooming for just a day. Symbol of ephemeral beauty, romantic love, passion, friendship, hospitality, joy. With only 10 plants in the wild, I have never seen this flower, so what was the wellspring of my joy when I learned that 26 new plants were discovered at the top of Le Morne Brabant mountain?
6. A Google search autocompletes to “giant pangasius for sale,” listed as paroon shark, iridescent shark, pangasius shark catfish. Badman’s Tropical Fish says: although their care is “easy, hardy;” suitability is “poor,” since they grow too large for home aquaria.
7. In July 2020, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, the habitat of one of the healthy subpopulations, burned from wildfires. Tortoises scattered, injured and dead. In 2021, nine instances of travelers carrying desert tortoises into Utah. From the Reserve: “people have been taking desert tortoises home since settlers arrived in the mid-1800s.”
8. The North Carolina population spans five sites on a single peninsula, all likely to be inundated by sea level rise by 2100. Every summer, DC empties and goes to the Outer Banks. Maybe it’s best if I keep my distance–it’s hard to miss something you’ve never known. For the lichen: no recovery plan. 9. Can anyone see their spark over boardwalks and streetlights? Twenty years ago, friends bought a house on the Delaware coast. “Bad investment,” you said, shaking your head. Causes of population decline: coastal development, sea level rise, light pollution, lowering of groundwater aquifers.
10. The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019) says it is still possible to halt unprecedented and accelerating species extinction rates, but only with transformative change. “…by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo.” At night, you tell our children there is hope…turn out their lights…sip your bourbon…stare out into the distant dark.