A Poem for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! (and belated) Happy National Poetry Month! As I procrastinated writing this post, I recalled Elizabeth Bishop‘s poem “One Art”:

the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans from all backgrounds helped launch the modern environmental movement. This activism occurred alongside passage of the landmark Clean Air ActClean Water ActEndangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking laws. Bishop’s admonishment rings especially true as these protections are threatened by corporate greed, and human indifference or apathy. Climate change is still being debated even against the vast majority of scientific opinion, and a public living amidst melting icecaps and rising sea levels that no longer remains divided along political lines. Family, friends, our wildlife brethren, gardens, livelihoods – Nature itself: what would we sacrifice because we did not act?

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
Naomi Shihab Nye



About thislittleplot

Writer, hiker, loafer
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6 Responses to A Poem for Earth Day

  1. Chris says:

    Imagine it took until 1970 to get the ball rolling. Glad it’s rolling though.

  2. Shonna says:

    Add the list of threats, the current slow death march of Darwin’s astoundingly perfect findings and theories, hard to believe I’d see a time when this is all being questioned again. How foolish. It’s like we’re going back in time to the 1840s. With that, I try to see the positive things going on in our midst. Breathe, be a good steward and activist for the earth and wait and see if things get better.

    • Yes! and, I do think there’s something to the idea that history doesn’t go in a progression, it goes in waves back and forth, and you’re right – we must never give up the fight!

  3. Earth Day is for ourselves; our own survival is at stake. If we want to turn Earth into Venus with global warming, well the planet will outlast us, and we will no longer be on it. That said … I reveled in the sight of a bald eagle this morning, watched a crow puke up its lunch and go get more at low tide, smelled the awful smelty smell of a colony of cormorants, and wondered why the orca always show up at Port Townsend when I have a day off. But maybe we are the endangered species, ultimately, and the orca will wonder what happened to the noisy steel whales?

    • Love your sharing of what sounds like a wonderful, stinky, visceral day! that is nature too, not just cute and lovely things (which I have a weakness for, I have to admit). You’re right, don’t know if humans will last that much longer in the geologic scheme of things, but nature will adapt and outlast us, no matter how we despoil her.

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