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Earth Day: Open Your Eyes: An Anthology on Climate Change

In 2020, I read a brilliant collection of poems on climate change today, from some of the best poets from India, America, Egypt, Denmark, Ireland and Nepal. The book is titled Open Your Eyes: An Anthology on Climate Change: Poetry and Prose, and is edited by Vinita Agarwal, who has done a brilliant job of putting together poetry and prose on oil spills, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, tsunamis, pandemics, the politics of climate change and most importantly, where humanity is heading if we don't change our ways real soon.

For World Earth Day, I've picked some favorites from the collection for you to read:

Sovereign by Ranjit Hoskote

Plucking sunsets from the water

the horned sovereign

half stamps half slides across

the beach


to dig claw rake

What washes up

is drilled shale lost static parsed from gulf to strait

plastic whorls in whose wake gagged dolphins trail

scarred humpback whales whose shadows

will drift unmoored up thawing glaciers

What washes up

is news of the cracked ice

across which a shivering fox is making her way

from Svalbard to Nunavut

leaving her pawprints on frozen currents

to a shore stippled with burst nebulae

a shore

that on a compass dizzy with wind-scattered directions

she can and can’t call home

I Am Today by Jayanta Mahapatra

I am today.

I write a poem whose words

fall to pieces

before the poem is made.

The oriole does not call,

I know I’ll never hear it again.

It’s a name now in a child’s

picture book.

I remember the dead sparrow

I picked up one early spring morning,

and how it made me human

as I held on to the little sorrow.

Today, I am.

No one quite knows my heart,

It’s inside a petrified loneliness

of its own.

All the visible we’ve loved once:

the love of frog riding frog in the rain

the fruit bats swinging in the deodars

and the colour of darkness that could

put out the light.

I am today.

Walk through it, its smells of blood

and paint, petrol and cement,

lipstick and factory waste,

and the death murmur of trees.

Cry, children

cry the silence of the earth

as you drift down without echo

the silk-stockinged sleepless city.

Limit by Alvin Pang

Mounting evidence of “an existential threat

to civilisation”. Cascading causes and effects,

the hawk crying over a desert freed of words,

a white bear thinned to pity on a sliver of ice.

The "heads of government" talk the talk

not of risk and shock but impunity regardless:

surviving on top even of a heap of cinders. A tip

pointed at the heart of now: sovereignty. The

climatologists check their fundings again hoping

to be wrong. The winemaker says this is good

for the high end but the bottom tier is drying out,

lacking the margin for water. Why teach the young

this green stuff, the Perm Sec grumbles, it's bad

for business. The bushfire says the same, only

more fiercely. The politicians say—well, just listen.

It's sexy now; time to stock up on solar, galoshes.

Going vegan won't help, warns a new report.

The priests say wait. The Children of Weather,

the lovers, would let the world drown just to live

together. It's always about coping against hope.

Not much else to do, being so small. Headlines

say nothing about where the news will stop or what

to do after you've crossed the line at last,

the last real year you felt good in your bones.

Apology To Mom by Peter H. Fogtdal

We failed you with our acid breath, Mom,

and the carbon footprints

we left in the pork.

Forgive us for killing the last rhino, Mom,

while she meditated in the shade,

but we needed her horn to pay for a nose job.

Forgive us for colonizing the Pleiades, Mom.

It’s a galactic Disneyworld now

and a tax haven for Russian loan sharks.

I guess we became immune to bird song,

I guess we ran out of bear hugs,

I guess we melted the North Pole,

but some cloudless day we'll learn.

Arid by Vinita Agrawal

So dry. Dryness

with cracked heels, barely a turban

of shade on the head.

Dryness that chalks the root’s

velvet suit, soil unbuttoned to the waist.

I’ve lost the fingers

of my sun’s rust hand

in the earth’s ochre crust.

The gay girl-puppet sways;

inappropriate celebration.

Orange, sienna, crimson, all one, in flat beige.

This hardness allows no footprints

Accommodates no seeds in its khadi uterus

Owns up only to cramped rib cages,

xeric nucleus eyes.

In my mind, the chicken in the wire coop

are saved by dense green intentions.


I scoop out the excess of sunlight from the air.

My head has enough dark spaces

to take in endless illumination.

But nothing changes.

Hours stay transfixed in heat.

I miss the moistness of rains.

Its Sarangi notes, open-fisted generosity

the colours locked in its belly

the yin to the yang of the throat.

People cavorting.

This shaken expanse

breaks every promise that time ever made to life-

that of relenting.

A sheep with slumped shoulders walks through me.

I become a burned hoof. A sore mouth.

Rain could ease the ache of this supine topography.

Rains and rivers and water tables.

That brilliant liquid

shimmering in dreams

that women would trade with their blood.

But clouds too are deserts here,

deserts in the skies.


First published in Narrow Road

Photograph by Jhilmil Breckenridge

Imagine you are looking at a photograph of a city

The city is your beloved Delhi

The skyline familiar—India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan

The sky is murky and dense—you could slice it like cake

See the mother and child in the photo,

Maybe the mother about to say:

In our times, the sky was cornflower blue

And the child wonders what blue is

Imagine this is not a photograph at all

See the child wearing a mask

You are the mother gasping

The sky is murky and dense

Everything around is dying, choking

Green trees can’t breathe

Birds drop dead mid-flight

Reuters reports 1.24 million died in 2017

That children are getting brain damaged

Meanwhile, crops burn around Delhi,

Firecrackers and money burn

Vehicles spout noxious fumes

The Yamuna is stagnant and still

Yes, imagine this is a photograph

Just imagine

Order your copy of Open Your Eyes here.


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