Sonnets for Solidarity with the Earth Sonnets for Solidarity with the Earth

Sonnets for Solidarity with the Earth

Nora Hollstein / Connected Archives

 

As COP26 draws to a close, Atmos brings together nine eco-poems that were performed at the global climate event to help inspire change in the way we think and act.

Earlier this month, over 190 world leaders descended into Glasgow from across the globe to attend COP26, the 2021 edition of The United Nations climate change conference. At the same time, grassroots leaders, activists, organizers and artists gathered in the Scottish city to hold governments accountable for false promises and slow action. Among them are poets who wrote and performed urgent words of hardship and hope to inspire change in the way we think and act towards the natural world.

 

Here, Atmos has compiled an anthology of poems—with the help of poetry collectives Poets for the Planet and Young Poets Network’s Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis as well as the UNHCR—by wordsmiths like Emtithal Mahmoud and Jérôme Pinel to forge new connections of solidarity and visions of the future.

COP26

By Jérôme Pinel

Waiting for my daughter under a plum tree.

A bench, right by a school.

Across the way, on the grass,

A gardener bending over some weeds.

 

The rose must seem cruel

Laughing brightly

At his proud and old strokes of trowel

That the city, a step away,

Doesn’t want to see. A crack

Splinters the wall. It is enough.

Even in the grey breath of a rat hole,

The seed opens its wings, green and frail.

Towards a honey sky reaching out.

Under the zebras, the street fissures.

 

The city needs wasteland

Abandoned territories.

To remember that concrete,

As deep as a fist might push it,

 

Only balances on a pile of earthworms

Who couldn’t care less

About cement-based rents

About big titles nailed on bricks.

A short power cut

And the sapiens will clamber down

From its tower of light,

Forgetting his money. //

A heart remains, beating blood

Alone in the huge bright night. //

 

Fallow city. Green city. Empty city.

To refresh your mind.

Far from the noise of advertisements.

And numbers racking up without restraint.

 

In the rush of traffic jams,

Commuting through moribund sighs

We can sometimes see near a bridge

a shaggy piece of wilderness,

A square of brambles answering

The hegemony of concrete

That it will outlive with the rage

Of flowers overlooked by the wheels of trucks

In the arid desert of cement floors.

The dews of dawn will be enough.

 

Here is the monkey in front of the deed!

Extending a hand to the indomitable.

To drops of water, to grains of sand!

At the very hour when unfolds

Amongst the tapping of keyboards, the call

From a memory globalized

In terabytes. Champs Elysees

Of the lost chants of Babel.

But man / is not / the universal reference.

Not the sole magician on the way.

Even if the root cannot move.

It can still bear witness. /

When the city understands how to share

The earth and the sky,

 

It will win./

 

Light. /

Children’s laughter /

Shards of wind.

Noise of stone /

 

A show of thin silhouettes

Emerging to full moons.

A ballad of sepia grasses

Dancing feline dances.

 

Rustling hills

Under the neon lighting up.

 

A tender offering to the spleen

Of the asphalt ants.

 

The city needs green space

Space for a deeper world.

Where uniforms come undone

In the flowing seasons.

 

Directly from this earth

That doesn’t matter just to gardeners,

Nor just to mining giants

Who would own if they could

An entire galaxy.

A piece of fruit has just fallen at my feet.

Plastic floats by with its “Co-op”

Stamp.  Behind, on the walls, ivy

 

Climbs.

 

We run on the mystery.

Waiting for my daughter under a plum tree.

Coyote in the Suburbs

By Tamar Yoseloff

Once an artist caged himself

with one of their kind;

at first they circled each other,

 

pressing limbs into corners,

backs into wire, discovering

the shape of confinement:

 

the coyote was not tamed,

but came to know the artist

as skin and blood, understood

 

how each movement was a kind

of reckoning – prisoners together.

The artist was making a stand

 

against a foreign war, a nation

cleaved by boundaries; the coyote

was its own stand, stubborn

 

wildness, defying what we suppress.

We retreat to aircon rooms

while they advance into yards,

 

our swing sets and teak chairs

fenced by clipped privet too neat

to hold their jittery bones.

 

We want to venture to the edge, into

uncharted lands, reach out our hands

as the artist did, touch coarse fur.

Safety in numbers

By Debra Watson

Scientists

turn their compound eyes

Collect, evaluate,

analyse

 

Report the ways

things might change if

 

we did more here

took less  there

 

But come the season

we spread our feathers

like restless migratory birds

Hungry and unsettled

to Mallorca and the Azores

 

Home in on Tasmania and India

or chase the last bits of

exotic snow to glide across

on legs powerful and sure

as eagle’s wings

 

We will not give up a single pleasure

for the wonders of speed

The effortless lift into

the air confirms

 

We were here

We were not there

 

Disasters remote

happen elsewhere

Down the road

In the other village

The other town

 

The unfortunate part of the city

 

We eat data

without digesting

the news

 

as if we could rise above it

Let’s go back to nature

Asibuyele kuyo imvelo

By Sindiswa Zulu

 

Racism even in environment

War of climate change

Life refusing a cycle

We lose trees

Roots we no longer have

Industries close to people of colour

Poisonous water down our throats

Sickness in our bodies

Production and vehicle smoke

Unclean air through nostrils

Cancer to the lungs

Brain shrinkage(grey matter)

Easy way for depression

We cannot hide ourselves in caves

Vitamins from the sunlight we need

This is a human made problem

It can only be fixed by a human

By returning to the environment

and do better by it!

 

Nemvelo imbala obandlululweni

Yimpi yokuguquguquka kwesezulu isimo

Indlela yempilo isinqaba indingilizi

Silahlekelwa zihlahla

Umuntu akasenazimpande

Amafemu ezindaweni zabebala

Amanzi anoshevu emphinjeni

Lokho ngukufa emzimbeni 

Intuthu yezithuthi nemikhiqizo

Umoya ongalungile emakhaleni

Ungumdlavuza emaphashini

Ufinyeza ubuchopho

Lolo ukhwantalala emqondweni 

Singeke sabalekela nasemigedeni

Umsoco welanga siphila ngawo

Le nkanankana inuka iphunga lomuntu 

Wuye futhi ongayilungisa

Ngokubuyela kuyo imvelo

Enze kangcono

Di Baladna

By Emtithal Mahmoud

 

If you are reading this, I forgive you.

You have grown far from the heart of me, my child

have lost the familiar love we held for one another

in your first years of life.

 

When you were young, you marvelled

at the plants and critters that ran across

my bosom, you worshiped the water,

swam up and down my rivers,

drank from my rain, laughed at each first snow,

begged for sun on the cloudy days.

 

You didn’t hesitate to sink your fingers

into the mud of me and tickle loose little pebbles,

droplets, seedlings, and worms

how you built a refuge for every wayward wanderer,

lining the kitchen shelves with jars

of lighting bugs and butterflies.

 

You drank the breeze from my trees,

the honey, sap, gum, with joy and ease

How you came to me

resting your head at my tender hearth

your weary body in my pockets –

you loved me.

 

You nurtured me before you knew

what it was to nurture,

tended me before you knew

what it was to tend,

tiller, sower, farmer,

green thumbed little one—

you knew me.

 

Lately, you hurt me,

you break and cut

and tear into me

and I forgive you.

 

For I am a part of you,

like your brothers and sisters before you

and those who are close to me now, so I forgive you.

I forgive you again for the reaping you do

with no intention to sow

again, for the waste and greed and gluttony.

 

When you were young

you asked me why they do this,

once brothers and sisters staining the earth

with the blood of your people

shaking apart the branches of your family tree,

you losing ground and hope

all in one fell swoop you turned to me

resting beneath the shade of date-palms and magnolias,

you begged me to make sense of it all.

 

All I could offer you then was a promise

that wherever you would go you would find me

But now there isn’t much left for me to promise

They’ve dug pits into my sides,

have stolen the rubies, gold, and diamonds

Maya placed in my thighs.

 

I do all I can to heal but my weary body

can’t clear away the hurt so easily

My waters rush but do not soothe,

the air in my lungs suffocates the little ones.

I cough and spew and gush and bruise,

and it will not heal—

when a child of mine dies by my hands.

 

Here in the long-forgotten valleys of your youth,

visitors come not of their own accord

but by necessity and I am made whole again

Abdulghani and Izdahara sink their hands into the mud of me,

saplings cling and I am whole again.

Hatem builds monuments to my skies,

captures the sun, channels the lightening,

and I am whole again.

 

Luka and Layatu fill their homes with fruit born of me,

the children eat and grow and are healthy,

and I am whole again.

Osman protests

It isn’t mine alone to mend he says

I need you

 

To build and build again to make new

to bring forth life from relentless earth

making an oasis from charred terrain

creating refuge from only scar tissue

and lightning strikes

 

Let me be more to you than just a final resting place.

Let me do more for you than call you home.

Child of mine if you are reading this,

I need you.

 

— Your Mother

 

If this land could speak, would she thank us, praise us,

would she ridicule us, or beg us?

would her voice be weary, gentle, disdainful?

Would it shake with sorrow, with rage?

I used to wonder about these things all the time.

 

At 11 years old, I watched my neighbour’s house

crumble before my eyes

The flood waters washed away the earth and clay

most people used to build their homes

To see her wade through her home like that,

to watch her try to salvage what little she had left

Our country was already locked in turmoil

and now the earth began to purge us too.

 

If you could stop the next tornado from hitting your home,

the next hurricane from wiping out your city,

the next drought from starving your people,

the next lightning strike from ending your life

wouldn’t you?

 

The locusts in the Horn of Africa,

the floods of South Sudan,

the ice in Chicago,

the fires in California, Australia.

The threat of rain that won’t stop

or rest, that won’t come.

 

We are at the precipice of possible change

A turning point that can and will defines us.

 

Fire or ice, how will the world end?

I don’t know and I don’t want to find out

not in our generation, and not in the next.

Mycelium Under the Canopy

By Brooke Nind

 

Under the canopy we planted trees and mushrooms—

the mushrooms sang, nutrients pooling

around them, humus darkening in delight.

 

Under the canopy the trees and mushrooms worked

in tandem, pushing water through the dirt,

underground transportation.

 

Under the canopy the mushrooms bore fruit,

bore our burdens, bore everything.

 

Under the canopy we cut open our houses,

found mushrooms, rolled them in our palms.

 

Under the canopy we dug a ditch, clawed

into the earth and found mycelium, dipped

our fingers into cleansed water.

 

Under the canopy we cried over oil spills,

sent mushrooms to the shore to absorb

the chemical pains of the thickened waters.

 

Under the canopy we dreamed of mushrooms,

grown thick and fluffy like marshmallows – they latched

onto our worries, decomposing them while we slept.

 

First published on The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network, as a winner in the Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis challenge with People Need Nature in 2021

65 Cybele

By Sabrina Guo

In the summer

when it pours,

a lake forms

 

in my backyard,

rivulets soaking

the grass—

 

a jungle monsoon

thousands

of miles away.

 

My boots heavy

in the rain,

I share my sorrow

 

with calming droplets

and hear my truth,

recall that

 

I was born in Queens,

of which I remember little

except for smoke unfurling

 

from apartment roofs

before my family moved

to Long Island,

 

which is hardly an island

at all. It’s not tropical

for one thing, and you don’t need

 

a boat or a plane 
to get there. In Oyster Bay,

it snows in the winter,

 

cold enough for hot

cocoa and heavy coats.

 

The blades of my skates

cut into the ice

but they don’t break the surface

 

as the frozen asteroid

65 Cybele did

four point five billion

 

years ago, breaking off

a chunk of rock

that then became the moon.

 

In concert with the sun,

that solar nebula

collapsed by gravity

 

spread its tendrils

over the earth, melted

the ice that remained

 

into bodies of water.

But where did the asteroid’s ice

come from in the first place?

 

I can’t help but ask

when I feel the blades

of my skates tracing lines,

 

knowing full well

all stories must start

somewhere:

 

water is made of molecules

and molecules

are made of atoms

 

and atoms are made

of neutrons, electrons,

and protons—

 

opposite forces,

that need each other

to form life.

 

Everything a process—

an experience

of coming

 

into contact

with the other.

 

First published on The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network, as a winner in the Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis challenge with People Need Nature in 2021

a united solution

By Renée Orleans-Lindsay

the solution isn’t ‘go green’.

rather, it’s quite a marshy brown;

all the colours on the spectrum thrust together,

pulled into braided harmony.

 

might the sagging glaciers of the himalayas, dribbling into the yangtze and the indus,

be nourished with kitschy korean neoprene?

those gutsy, ebullient women divers; grasping cold abalone.

 

the waning coral reefs

crumbling into chroma before your eyes –

your child’s eyes

might they be galvanised by ghanaian manganese,

buzzing phone-chip’s life and breath?

 

it’s coalition we need; london’s taxis fuelling lima’s arid faucets,

china’s offal coursing through phones rather than waters,

tit-for-tat, recycling, redistribution –

and if everyone made some contribution

today’s teetering future might be solid, stuck

 

here’s a prayer for humanity and good luck.

 

First published on The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network, as a winner in the Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis challenge with People Need Nature in 2021

The Ocean Makes Creatures of Us

By Yvanna Vien Tica

I am watching the ocean drown

us in a fit of love. The sand sticks

 

to the alcove of my knees. There is a mother

dipping her child into the water, laughing.

 

The child is slipping in the sand,

webbed toes shimmering on a long

 

silver fin. The mother is crying

from laughing too hard and looks

 

at her feet. Then she is crying from watching her child swim

away. I am building a castle in the sand only for the ocean

 

to wash it away apologetically. There

is a weight stringing across my chest,

 

and I panic until I realize

it’s just the ocean, rising.

 

My phone sizzles in my pocket

and I hear a politician crying

 

out for Noah. But why

would he want animals

 

like us? No, I am ready

to go. I hold my breath

 

until my hair winds around my neck

like seaweed. The sun weaves silk

 

into the water, and the fish nuzzle me

instead of swimming away. I breathe.

 

When my feet fuse together, I swim

to the mother, laughing. Then we watch

 

her toes disappear too, replaced

with a long, silver fin. She is crying

 

from having breathed too much

air. The water embraces us.

 

I watch the mother swim away with her child.

The ocean kisses me in a fit of love.

 

First published on The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network, as a winner in the Poems to Solve the Climate Crisis challenge with People Need Nature in 2021

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