At least there was a
song timorous of
wing-beat snowdrift ash
of red horizon
then somewhere calling
as under one’s breath
(I did not hope you
would find me wanting)
and the next extinction
on every wing—
Copyright @ 2014 by David Baker. Used with permission of the author.
The plant saw the beauty of water, the flowering plant with bright red flowers. She told me all about water. Bending over the water to put on her bottu, she saw the beauty of water. I watched the loveliness, until I fainted. Snakes like trees ran through the lake. The plant saw the beauty of water, the flowering plant with bright red flowers. The sky saw it all. It trembled in fear and fell down on the banks. Even the sun was scared to look from the top of the tree. The plant saw the beauty of water, the flowering plant with bright red flowers. She spread out her hair. Her bottu fell off. The banks shed tears and the shore was shaken. The plant with bright red flowers, bending, still bending told me of the beauty of water. The hibiscus talked to me.
"Hibiscus on the Lake" by Chavali Bangaramma from Hibiscus on the Lake: Twentieth-Century Telugu Poetry from India edited and translated by Velcheru Narayana Rao. Copyright © 2003. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. All rights reserved.
The whales can’t hear each other calling
in the noise-cluttered sea: they beach themselves.
I saw one once— heaved onto the sand with kelp
stuck to its blue-gray skin.
Heavy and immobile
it lay like a great sadness.
And it was hard to breathe with all the stink.
Its elliptical black eyes had stilled, were mostly dry,
and barnacles clustered on its back
like tiny brown volcanoes.
Imagining the other whales, their roving weight,
their blue-black webbing of the deep,
I stopped knowing how to measure my own grief.
And this one, large and dead on the sand
with its unimaginable five-hundred-pound heart.
Copyright © 2016 by Sally Bliumis-Dunn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 19, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Some did not want to alter the design
when the failure message
said massive problem with oxygen.
Some wanted to live full tilt with risk.
By then we were too weak for daily chores:
feeding chickens, hoeing yams,
calibrating pH this and N2 that . . .
felt like halfway summiting Everest.
We didn’t expect the honeybees
to die. Glass blocked the long-wave
light that guides them.
Farm soil too rich in microbes
concrete too fresh ate the oxygen.
We had pressure problems,
recalibrating the sniffer. Bone tired
I reread Aristotle by waning light.
Being is either actual or potential.
The actual is prior to substance.
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,
Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood.
I leafed through Turner’s England,
left the book open at Stonehenge.
A shepherd struck by lightning lies dead,
dog howling, several sheep down too.
The painter gave gigantic proportion
to sulphurous god rimmed clouds
lightning slashing indigo sky
while close at hand lie fallen stones
dead religion, pages dusty
brown leaf shards gathering
in the gutter yet I cannot turn the page
wondering what I am and when
in the story of life my life is taking place.
Now what. No shepherd. No cathedral.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?
Copyright © 2015 by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
How swift, how far
carries a body from shore.
Empires fail, species are lost,
and tufted puffins forsaken.
After eons of fauna and flora, hominids have stood
for mere years
baffled brains atop battered shoulders.
In a murky blanket of heavens
an icy planet
made of diamond spins.
Our sun winks like the star
billions of years ago, without ambition.
We bury bodies in shallow dirt, heedless of lacking space
or how long
our makeshift planet will host us.
Copyright © 2017 by Risa Denenberg. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
No gate, no main entrance, no ticket, no ranger. Not far
From where Frost once raised chickens and ill-fated children, near
Where the Old Man’s glacier-hewn face though bolstered to
Its godlike roost by rods and turnbuckles slid
From our fledgling millennium into oblivion,
You can cross the Pemigewasset on a bridge
Then, compass-north but southbound on the trail,
Ascend an old grassed-over logging road
To the carved out collarbone of Cannon Mountain.
This is Lonesome Lake. How you go from here
Depends on why you’ve come: to out a spruce grouse
Or listen for the whee-ah of a Bicknell’s thrush;
For a breezy picnic or a midlife crisis,
A long haul or a day trip to the cascades.
Bring for your purposes only what you need:
Salmon jerky, a canteen or Camelbak,
Band-aids, a ratchet and strap, a roughed-up heart.
Bring sunblock, a notebook, the Beatles, Beyoncé,
The Bhagavad Gita, a Bible, some Hitchens or Hegel.
However long you stay you must leave nothing.
No matchbox, no pole-tip, no grommet, no cup.
Carry in and out your Clif Bar wrappers,
Your fear of bears and storms. Keep the rage
You thought you’d push through your boot-soles into the stones,
The grief you hoped to shed. If you think you’ve changed,
Take all your changes with you.
If you lift
An arrowhead from the leaves, return it. Pocket
No pinecone, no pebble or faery root. Resist
The painted trillium even if its purple throat
Begs to be pressed between your trail guide’s pages.
Copyright © 2016 by Maggie Dietz. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
Not, exactly, green: closer to bronze preserved in kind brine, something retrieved from a Greco-Roman wreck, patinated and oddly muscular. We cannot know what his fantastic legs were like— though evidence suggests eight complexly folded scuttling works of armament, crowned by the foreclaws’ gesture of menace and power. A gull’s gobbled the center, leaving this chamber —size of a demitasse— open to reveal a shocking, Giotto blue. Though it smells of seaweed and ruin, this little traveling case comes with such lavish lining! Imagine breathing surrounded by the brilliant rinse of summer’s firmament. What color is the underside of skin? Not so bad, to die, if we could be opened into this— if the smallest chambers of ourselves, similarly, revealed some sky.
From Atlantis, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1995 by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News
Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.
I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.
Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
one thing today and another tomorrow
and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.
I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.
Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.
Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
I will speak
the impossible hope of the firefly.
You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
such wordless desire.
To say it is mindless is missing the point.
Copyright © 2012 by Camille Dungy. Used with permission of the author.
All the things we hide in water hoping we won't see them go— (forests growing under water press against the ones we know)— and they might have gone on growing and they might now breathe above everything I speak of sowing (everything I try to love).
From Calendars by Annie Finch, published by Tupelo Press. Copyright © 2003 by Annie Finch. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Tupelo Press.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
When his ship first came to Australia,
Cook wrote, the natives
continued fishing, without looking up.
Unable, it seems, to fear what was too large to be comprehended.
Originally published in After (HarperCollins, 2006); all rights reserved. Copyright © by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
What a girl called "the dailiness of life" (Adding an errand to your errand. Saying, "Since you're up . . ." Making you a means to A means to a means to) is well water Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world. The pump you pump the water from is rusty And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands And gulp from them the dailiness of life.
From The Complete Poems by Randall Jarrell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1969, 1996 by Mrs. Randall Jarrell. Used with permission.
Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,
the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations
of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.
It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing
but benzene, mercury, the stomachs
of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic.
You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,
but I assure you we were.
We still had the night sky back then,
and like our ancestors, we admired
its illuminated doodles
of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.
Absolutely, there were some forests left!
Absolutely, we still had some lakes!
I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.
There were bees back then, and they pollinated
a euphoria of flowers so we might
contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,
“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”
And then all the bees were dead.
Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
The maples sweat now, out of season.
Buds pop eyes in wintry bushes
as the birds arrive, not having checked
the calendars or clocks. They scramble
in the frost for seeds, while underground
a sobbing starts in roots and tubers.
Ice cracks easily along the bank.
It slides in gullies where a bear, still groggy,
steps through coiled wire of the weeds.
Kids in T-shirts run to school, unaware
that summer is a long way off.
Their teachers flirt with off-the-wall assignments,
drum their fingers on the sweaty desktops.
As for me, my heart leaps high—
a deer escaping from the crosshairs,
skipping over barely frozen water
as the surface bends and splinters underfoot.
From New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015 by Jay Parini (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.
Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)
Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees,
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground.
Copyright © 2015 by Patrick Rosal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
Balloon, then papier mâché.
Gray paint, blue and turquoise, green,
a clouded world with fishing line attached
to an old light, original to the house, faux brass
chipping, discolored, an ugly thing. What must
the people of this planet think, the ground
knobby and dry, the oceans blue powder,
the farmland stiff and carefully maintained.
Sometimes they spin one direction,
then back again. How the coyotes howl.
How the people learn to love, regardless.
The majesty of their own towering hearts.
The mountains, which they agree are beautiful.
And the turquoise—never has there been
such a color, breaking into precious
and semi-precious stones. They build houses
from them, grand places of worship,
and there is much to worship. Look up,
for instance. Six suns. The wonder of it.
First one, then the next, eclipsing
the possibility that their world hangs by a thread.
Copyright © 2015 by Karen Skolfield. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
200 cows more than 600 hilly acres
property would have been even larger
had J not sold 66 acres to DuPont for
waste from its Washington Works factory
where J was employed
did not want to sell
but needed money poor health
Not long after the sale cattle began to act
footage shot on a camcorder
grainy intercut with static
Images jump repeat sound accelerates
quality of a horror movie
the rippling shallow water the white ash
trees shedding their leaves
a large pipe
discharging green water
a skinny red cow
hair missing back humped
a dead black calf in snow its eye
a brilliant chemical blue
a calf’s bisected head
liver heart stomachs kidneys
gall bladder some dark some green
cows with stringy tails malformed hooves
lesions red receded eyes suffering slobbering
staggering like drunks
It don’t look like
anything I’ve been into before
I began rising through the ceiling of each floor in the hospital as though I were being pulled by some force outside my own volition. I continued rising until I passed through the roof itself and found myself in the sky. I began to move much more quickly past the mountain range near the hospital and over the city. I was swept away by some unknown force, and started to move at an enormous speed. Just moving like a thunderbolt through a darkness.
R’s taking on the case I found to be inconceivable
It just felt like the right thing to do
opportunity to use my background for people who
really needed it
R: filed a federal suit
a letter that mentioned
a substance at the landfill
a soap-like agent used in
PFOA: was to be incinerated or
sent to chemical waste facilities
not to be flushed into water or sewers
pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds
into the Ohio River
dumped tons of PFOA sludge
into open unlined pits
increased the size of the liver in rats and rabbits
(results replicated in dogs)
caused birth defects in rats
caused cancerous testicular pancreatic and
liver tumors in lab animals
possible DNA damage from exposure
bound to plasma proteins in blood
was found circulating through each organ
high concentrations in the blood of factory workers
children of pregnant employees had eye defects
dust vented from factory chimneys settled well-beyond
the property line
entered the water table
concentration in drinking water 3x international safety limit
study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer
worth $1 billion in annual profit
(It don’t look like anything I’ve been into before)
Every individual thing glowed with life. Bands of energy were being dispersed from a huge universal heartbeat, faster than a raging river. I found I could move as fast as I could think.
did not make this information public
declined to disclose this finding
considered switching to new compound that appeared less toxic
and stayed in the body for a much shorter duration of time
decided against it
decided it needed to find a landfill for toxic sludge
bought 66 acres from a low-level employee
at the Washington Works facility
(J needed money
had been in poor health
a dead black calf
its eye chemical blue
staggering like drunks)
I could perceive the Earth, outer space, and humanity from a spacious and indescribable ‘God’s eye view.’ I saw a planet to my left covered with vegetation of many colors no signs of mankind or any familiar shorelines. The waters were living waters, the grass was living, the trees and the animals were more alive than on earth.
D’s first husband had been a chemist
worked at DuPont in this town you could have
everything you wanted
DuPont paid for his education
secured him a mortgage paid a generous salary
even gave him a free supply of PFOA
He explained that the planet we call Earth really has a proper name, has its own energy, is a true living being, was very strong but has been weakened considerably.
which she used
as soap in the family’s dishwasher
I could feel Earth’s desperate situation. Her aura appeared to be very strange, made me wonder if it was radioactivity. It was bleak, faded in color, and its sound was heart wrenching.
her husband came home sick—fever, nausea, diarrhea,
an emergency hysterectomy
a second surgery
I could tell the Doctor everything he did upon my arrival down to the minute details of accompanying the nurse to the basement of the hospital to get the plasma for me; everything he did while also being instructed and shown around in Heaven.
Clients called R to say they had received diagnoses of cancer
or that a family member had died
W who had cancer had died of a heart attack
Two years later W’s wife died of cancer
They knew this stuff was harmful
and they put it in the water anyway
I suspect that Earth may be a place of education.
PFOA detected in:
American blood banks
blood or vital organs of:
Alaskan polar bears
California sea lions
Laysan albatrosses on a wildlife refuge
in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean;>
Viewing the myriad human faces with an indescribable, intimate, and profound love. This love was all around me, it was everywhere, but at the same time it was also me.
We see a situation
that has gone
from Washington Works
All that was important in life was the love we felt.
All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.
In my particular case, God took the form of a luminous warm water. It does not mean that a luminous warm water is God. It is just that, for me, it was experiencing the luminous warm water that I felt the most connection with the eternal.
Copyright © 2017 Tracy K. Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets. “Watershed” appears in Wade in the Water, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in April 2018.
Curled like a genie’s lamp,
A track shoe from the 1970s among seaweed,
The race long over, the blue ribbons faded,
The trophies deep in pink insulation in the rafters.
Perhaps the former distant runner sits in his recliner.
The other shoe? Along this shore,
It could have ridden the waves back to Mother Korea,
Where it was molded from plastic,
Fitted with cloth, shoelaces poked through the eyelets,
Squeezed for inspection.
I remember that style of shoe.
Never owned a pair myself.
With my skinny legs I could go side-to-side like a crab,
But never run the distance with a number on my back,
Never the winner or runner up heaving at the end.
I bag that shoe, now litter, and nearly slip on the rocks.
Gulls scream above, a single kite goes crazy,
A cargo ship in the distance carrying more
Of the same.
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Soto. Used with permission of the author.
Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life
Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture
Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs
Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place
Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.
Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare
searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,
and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.
And I have traveled along the contours
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool,
I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.
From The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998, published by Copper Canyon Press, 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Arthur Sze. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368.
to the sheer
Copyright © 2015 by Sidney Wade. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 11, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
and my love clings to you
sings to you
in the “new weathers”
within a tragedy
of the Anthropocene
by the hand
can we resist?
will we fail?
to save our world?
we dream replicas of ourselves
inside the shadow
a looming possibility
this new year
to wake up
could it be?
an anthropoid scared
from the forest
slow in development
much like us
ready to resist
the forest made the monkey
& the cave & steppe: the human
what makes us suppler
a fierce tenderness toward
the destruction of our world?
[my love for you
sings for you, world
I’ve got those Anthropocene….
Copyright © 2017 by Anne Waldman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies Darken with kindness. They have come gladly out of the willows To welcome my friend and me. We step over the barbed wire into the pasture Where they have been grazing all day, alone. They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness That we have come. They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other. There is no loneliness like theirs. At home once more, They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness. I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, For she has walked over to me And nuzzled my left hand. She is black and white, Her mane falls wild on her forehead, And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist. Suddenly I realize That if I stepped out of my body I would break Into blossom.
Copyright © 2005 James Wright. From Selected Poems. Reprinted with permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.