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
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
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
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 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;
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.
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
Order your copy of Open Your Eyes here.