Degrees of Separation
2018, High School, Poetry
It doesn’t take much heat or carelessness
for the oceans to lilt towards another horizon, falter
and flood and fall apart. Another fraction of a degree
and there will come tempestuous storms to tear skies apart,
waves thunderous, empty, acidic and wanting—
spilling into streets, rushing with the howls of wind
(We stand in the eye of a hurricane
with our own eyes shut)
Ice fractures like glass under our carbon footprints,
shudders and shatters and gives way into sea—
for every inch we give the oceans, we will lose miles in time.
We swallow bad news like our morning coffee, like bad dreams,
like indifference, denial, a casualness over casualties:
“well, what can we do anyways—
someone else will take care of it”
because tragedy is but a distant afterthought
(until it isn’t—
and there will come a day, when it is here,
among our neighbors and among the streets we once called home)
On this side of the world,
we chase scintillating business deals, seal transactions and strain
for a golden-gilded life, the glitter of camera flashes and superfluous power and wealth—
we pace between city skylines that glint with sterling lustre
with no mind for our urban lungs, the suffocation of acrid smoke, the bitter tang of the industrial.
(Elsewhere, there are
islands swallowed and lost, communities in mourning,
children watching shorelines creep closer day by day—
watching the ocean murmur urgently, restlessly,
wildfires bleeding sky into rust
at a horizon where the sun drowns night and night again)
But that is elsewhere, far away and not here
(not yet, anyway, and that’s all that matters)
and the fluorescent billboards will tell us to ignore the burning in our lungs,
ignore the stillness of coral reefs bleached white, the heat waves and dead zones and droughts
(close your eyes to the warning signs, and you will forget the danger soon enough)
and politics will tell us to forget how marbled light flickers off of silver-scaled fish,
forget the incandescence of life in all of its overwhelming beauty and strength—
forget that day by day, we will drown with the sun.
But we will keep our eyes open—
We do not ignore, and instead we remember;
from water we will learn
the strength in persistence, learn how to cut canyons through sandstone
through sheer solidarity alone, learn how to bottle electricity under our ribs and
fold its power into our words—
from the sea, we learn how to fight back.
A list of everything on the rise:
temperatures, sea levels, mortalities and floods and flatlining headlines — but also
our protest signs, our voices, our concerns and our actions and our resistance and
and we will rise, and so we do—
we lift our voices above the storms like lightning strikes,
our veins running hotter in these thunderstorms—
eyes open and trained on the politicians, the big businesses,
the ignorant, the careless, the denialists, the ones who dismiss us—
and together, we refuse complacency.
We each have a future, but we have yet to own it—
the earth has given us enough chances to take back the time,
change and heal and undo the damage from our hands—
it’s time we take it.
“Effects of Global Warming.” National Geographic, National Geographic Partners, 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/global-warming-effects/. Accessed 1 June 2018.
The title of this poem was inspired by “six degrees of separation,” a social theory that any two people can be connected in less than six steps. Other than emphasizing the interconnectedness of humans, the title uses wordplay by referring to the changes in temperature that the world is currently experiencing. When writing this poem, I thought about how easy it can be to ignore a problem if its consequences are not felt on a personal level or completely understood. In a time where climate change is more a pressing issue than ever, denial and dismissal still persists, clearly shown in the actions of the government with environmental policies. Seeing the widespread ignorance of how our world is changing and how many communities have been harmed, I felt confused, afraid, and helpless, uncertain if there was anything I could do. At first, it was easy to feel pessimism and despair, but I found hope and optimism in the power of words to cause change and communicate messages to others. I wanted the beginning of this poem to have a tone of foreboding, loss, and the underlying recklessness of our current actions; however, I wanted my writing towards the end to convey a sense of determination, boldness, and intensity to drive people to action. I wanted to emphasize not only our personal responsibilities to the health of our planet, but also the power held by each individual and the potential change we can cause when we act together.