Eighteen years old, October eleventh
Drunk for the first time in her life,
she tossed her head in a horsey laugh
and that new opal gift sailed off her sore earlobe,
in a graceful parabola, pinged twice on the stone porch floor,
and rolled off to hide behind the rose bushes.
It gathered dust and silt for two centuries.
The mansion came down in a war.
For twelve thousand years
the opal hid in dark rubble, unmoving.
An arctic chill worked down through it, and deeper,
and glaciers pushed the rubble thousands of miles,
very fast, as opals measure time.
After millions of years (the Sun just measurably cooler)
a female felt the presence of a stone,
and waved away yards of snow and ice;
waved away dozens of yards of frozen dirt and crushed rock,
and held, in what resembled a hand,
this bauble of gold and rainbow stone:
felt the sense of loss in that silly girl,
dead as a trilobite;
felt the pain that had gone into penetrating
the soft hyperbolic paraboloid of cartilage
that then displayed the decoration;
felt its sexual purpose:
to attract a dissimilar pattern of genes
to combine and recombine a trillion trillion times,
and become herself.
She briefly cherished the stone,
and returned it to its waiting.
Joe Haldeman is Adjunct Professor of Writing at MIT and an acclaimed science fiction novelist. This poem first appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in August 1990, and won the Rhysling Award for best science fiction poem of the year.