Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day Verse—National Poetry Month 2020

Perhaps a futile wish on a not-at-all-happy Earth Day.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970.  Millions of people should be in the streets around the world demanding immediate action to combat global climate change—a militant all-ages extension of Greta Thunberg’s youth-let Students Strike for Peace.  In the United States, Brazil, Bolivia and a handful of other countries the protests should be aimed at the downfall of anti-science climate change denying regimes led by neo and not so neo fascist would-be dictators over turning decades of environmental protections at the behest of shadowy oligarchs.
Instead the streets are eerily empty.  They bring to mind the shots of post-nuclear war dead and vacant cities destroyed not by blasts but by world girdling fallout in the 1959 film On the Beach. 

The deserted streets of a post-apocalyptic world from the 1959 film On the Beach.
In this country the only ones taking to the streets are the collections of Trumpista true believers, gun-toting patriots/neo-nazi militias, and general yahoos storming state capitols demanding the right to spread a deadly plague as the #RealDonaldTrump exhorts them to “LiberateMichigan, Minnesota, and Virginia.  They represent only a sliver of the population enduring stoically, for the most part, the isolation of shelter-in-place orders amid the mounting death of the Coronavirus pandemic.  But in the absence of any alternative voices in the streets save a few exhausted nurses and front line health workers, the media magnifies the significance and power of the astroturf mobs.
How can the rest of us keep Earth Day and what it represents this year?  Erupting on social media, flooding Congressional phone lines?  Standing in our yards or on urban balconies banging pots and yelling our fool heads off?  Desperately organizing for what might well be the last election of a dying democracy?  I don’t know, but we damn well better do something!
Ironically the global lock-down which has brought economies to a screeching halt have turned out to be, as one commentator on one of my posts wrote, a virtual General Strike.  And it has shown in remarkably fast time how quickly the environment can recover.  The skies over China’s bustling cities were smog-free for the first time in decades.  The mighty Himalayas were once again visible from deep in India. green-house gas emissions plummeted.  Rivers ran clearer and oceans were spared new oil slicks.  The planet has begun to heal itself before our eyes.
When inevitably the pandemic subsides will we revert unchanged to the heedless pursuit of growth, short-term profit and environmental exploitation or will we take a moment to learn what we can live without and give a slim chance for that healing to continue?
Earth Day seemed like a very big deal when it was introduced in 1970.  The Environmental Movement as we know it was still in its relative infancy having grown out of earlier conservationism that emphasized the husbanding of natural resources for human use.  It seems in those early years when hundreds of thousands responded to calls to march or participate in some way that real change was possible.
And, of course, much was accomplished—the EPA and increased regulation of pollution, the hands-on movement to re-cycle and re-use, the on-going involvement of children which critics charge has now become a virtual secular religion.  But despite it all, the planet is in more desperate shape today than it was then.  The Cassandra warnings about climate change have come true in spades, faster than anyone really expected.  
Yet resistance to real change to address the root causes has never been fiercer—or more successful—as it is fueled by billionaire exploiters and exploited by rabid right wing movements.  If liberals love the Planet, conservatives MUST attack it wrapping themselves in an ideology of unfettered capitalism  and apocalyptic Evangelical claims that the End of Days is at hand so humans can and should squeeze every ounce of value from the Earth that will be thrown away anyway. on the other.
All of that enabled by the Wrecker-in-Chief who has thrown hand grenades at international environmental cooperation, dismantled every Federal environmental regulation he can find including those that successfully cleaned American water and largely scrubbed the skies of pollution.  And in the face of incontrovertible evidence of looming irreversible disaster actively promotes increase carbon emissions from dirty coal and petroleum while attacking renewable energy like those cancer causing windmills.

Most of the early optimism of Earth Day has faded.  The environmental collapse predicted by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 is coming true faster than the most alarmed Cassandras of science predicted.  Most think the tipping point has come and gone.  Mass extinctions loom, violent weather disaster not only become routine but intensify year by year. Ocean temperatures and sea levels rise drowning polar bears and threatening low lying land across the globe.  Scorching heat and deforestation create deserts at a galloping pace.  Famine  stalks the world as changing climate destroys agriculture.  Some say a total collapse is inevitable now within 100 years—or less.
The Apocalypse may indeed be at hand—but not the one that will rapture believers and leave behind a ruined earth.  It may be the one that dooms the doubters and the increasingly frantic alarmists as well.
So today’s Earth Day poetry collections are not the rapturous odes to nature of nearly 50 years ago. 
Susan Jarvis Bryant
Susan Jarvis Bryant is a poet originally from Kent, England and now lives in Texas with her American husband.  She has published in United Kingdom webzines, Lighten Up Online and Snakeskin, and in Openings, anthologies of verse by Open University Poet.  This selection appeared on The Society of Classical Poets web page.
Earth Day 2020
I won’t drive my car, book a flight on a plane;
I won’t take a cab or a trip on a train.

I’ll shun fun beach picnics, each sea turtle’s nose
is safe from the peril my soda straws pose.

I won’t bless my butt with an angel-wing zing;
the scourge of compostable leaves is my thing.

I’ll rein in wild snorts with a mask; I’ll be spurred
to gallop away from the rest of the herd.

I won’t feast on meat, that sweet treat’s out of reach;
I’ll choke down raw beets and the odd garden leech.

I’ll mope here in blackness in blue Wu-Flu-ville;
there’s no hope in hell that I’ll pay my light bill.

I’m saving the earth, let the planet rejoice;
I’m Eco-Boudicca—I’ve no bloody choice!

Susan Jarvis Bryant

Sam Illingworth.

Sam Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication. His research is concerned with trying to engage and empower people with science, especially those without a voice. He writes science poems to try and communicate some of the beautiful and important scientific research that is being done on a daily basis, all across the world.

An Entanglement of Whales

Basking in the tainted gloss
of west coast rays,
these once frigid water
overflow with sustenance,
enticing anchovies to
cavort along the coastlines;
their corporeal writhing
a carnal call to
hungry, ancient giants.

           Upstream, waves of heat
weave blobs of warmth
into toxic bouquets,
their ghastly aromas
leeching beneath the
burly exteriors of
Californian crabs,
as grounded vessels
delay the inevitability
of their passing.

Warming waves and
contaminated crabs
convene to form
a Venn diagram of
overlapping misfortune;
tugging at the ropes to
release our captives,
we forget the shackles
that pull them ever
towards the ocean floor.

Sam Illingworth

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a poet from the Marshall Islands who addressed the UN Climate Summit in 2014.  She reflects on the effects of climate change on her country, as well as the similar effects on Minnesota. She considers the future of the planet and the legacies we will leave to our children.


I dreamt of a dead shark

we were at a family party
my mother asked me to check the oven and
when I opened it
there it was
massive, gray leathered skin, jaw open
like a metal trap

I dreamt of eating a shark

When I woke up I met my mother in the hallway
I told her about my dream
how it felt
together we went outside and that’s when we found
the world
Our neighbors wandering outside
morning daze on their faces
homes inundated, families evacuated
sent to sleep on classroom floors at the nearby elementary school

My family is a descendant of the RiPako clan, the Shark clan
known to control the waves with roro, chants
it was said that they turned the tides with the sound of their voice
they sang songs to sharks encircling their canoes, we were connected
to these white tipped slick bodied ancestors carving
through water
we would never
have eaten them

In the Marshall Islands I teach Pacific Literature
Together we read the stories our ancestors told around coconut husk fire
So what are the legends
we tell ourselves today?
What songs are we throwing into the fire . . . what
are we burning?
And will future generations
recite these stories by heart, hand
over chest?

In one legend
It’ll start by saying

in the beginning
was water

water from the sea that flooded our homes our land and now
our only underground reservoir
what we call a fresh water lens
shaped like the front of an eyeball, nestled deep in our coral
feeding on rainwater it watches us, burning and angry it is
it poisons us
with salt
and thirsty

Over 6,000 miles away from my island home is the US state of Minnesota
I’ve read that Minnesota, like the Marshalls,
is simultaneously drowning and thirsting
In 2007 24 Minnesota counties received drought designation
While 7 counties were declared flood disasters
In 2012 this time 55 Minnesota counties received drought designation
while 11 counties declared flood emergencies

Climate scientists warn of intensified heat
this heat threatens Minnesota’s great North Woods
a forest nearly 12,000 years old
scientists predict the mixed hardwood and conifer forest
will follow glaciers and retreat north by as much as 300 miles in the next century

I imagine a hardwood tree ancient
and weary, dry
untangling its roots from the soil
before heaving its tree trunk body
to a new home where it will forever mourn
its roots

In this legend,
identify the theme, the moral the message what
have we learned . . .
have we learned

What is the archetype of a monster and a hero?
can they be one and the same?

Here’s another story of a tree
On one of our atolls known as Kwajelein
There was said to be a flowering tree at the south end
that grew from the reef itself
a utilomar tree
it was said its magical white petals fell
into the water and bloomed
into flying fish

On a lazy Sunday my cousin and I lay side by side
on my aunty’s veranda, sun drying our skin, together
we dreamed an organization dedicated to young people like us
who leapt
blind and joyful
into water
willing ourselves wings
to fly
who dared to dream of a world where both forests and islands
stay rooted
who believe that this world
is worth fighting for

I still nightmare of dead leather sharks

But I’d rather dream
I’d rather imagine our/next generation
their voices turning the tides
how our underground reservoir will drink in their chants
how they will speak shark songs and fluent fish
how they
will leap

into the water
before blossoming

to fly

—Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Fire and Flood.

And finally another from that annoying  Old Man.

The Fire Next Time is Now
August 27, 2019

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
           —2 Peter 3: 5-7  The Bible New King James Version

Okay, so Biblical Prophecy is not my thing.
Mumbo-jumbo, mystic-tristick bullshit.
It gives me a rash and a headache.

But this creeps me out, you know?
            Cripes look at the headlines! 

                        Record Heat Wave Feeds Massive Australian Bush Fires
                        Wildfires Permanently Alter Alaska’s Forest Composition
                        Huge Wildfires in the Arctic and Far North Send a Planetary Warning
                        Siberia is Burning!
                        Lungs of the World Ablaze in the Amazon
                        More Fires Now Burning in Angola, Congo Than Amazon.

Maybe Peter, or whoever wrote in his name,
            was onto something after all.
            I don’t know exactly who is un-godly
—me probably, you maybe, 
those guys over there,
but maybe the day of judgement and perdition
is on us all after all.

We failed somehow despite the warnings
            of a thousand prophets, Jeremiahs, and Cassandras
            who warned us over and over
            to do something before it’s too late.

Is it too late really?  We beg for answers from the Holy seers.
            Hear our plea
                        Al Gore
                        Neil deGrasse Tyson 
                        Gagged scientists of NOAA and NASA
            Greta Thunberg  and your children’s crusade.
                        Elders of the Alaskan Nunakauyarmiut Tribe

Can we wake up, you know, like Scrooge on Christmas morning
            fresh and new, our eyes wide open 
            and throw open the shutters to buy the world
            a turkey and a second chance?

Probably not that easy.

But you know what’s worse?
            That Bible guy said no flood this time,
            but he was wrong—
            the oceans rise, the world sinks
            Fire and Flood
                        Fire and Flood
                                    Fire and Flood.

—Patrick Murfin

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