2023, Senior, Poetry & Spoken Word
Climate Hero: Wynn Bruce
the kerosene sets.
i hold the light to my candle-colored skin
—make a wish!—and blow. where spirit
meets fire, chaos quiets careless tongues.
under my scalp, a mass of blood-red muscle
and black ash, shrouded by an emerald fog.
isn’t it pretty, Mother? the same color as
the crowd watches as the flame licks the capitol steps, carving a path
through the ochre sky. you used to make trips to the town square,
wearing nothing but a plastic smile and a scarlet-stained dress.
you would steal young watermelons, sweet and sun-kissed,
back from the market. we would carve their craniums
and bathe their beaded eyes in brine-water jars.
smoke is the great equalizer. in the face of
Mother, we are all fragile, flammable,
creators of an eternal illusion,
henchmen of rot.
and then you fell sick, Mother ~
the house lies in ruin.
i wonder if the seeds will survive;
if the souls will suffocate without light
and lullabies and love; if one of the jars broke
—fell off the shelf—as the crocodiles spat on your
grave and dragged me away. my lungs fill with smoke
and blood and the salt from when they showered me with
thoughts and prayers. i recall the burning rainforests and broken
promises, our fractured tongues striking a match within our hearts;
for i could be your memory—your tombstone—your Watermelon Seed.
the world fades.
cloak and scythe lie in wait, twice prejudiced,
dammed by a path of feral fire. i stare at the
men jostling to see the Watermelon Seed bloom.
if i had the chance, i would sit on the
cobblestone steps and watch it grow.
if i had the chance, Mother, i would name it
On April 22, 2022, climate activist Wynn Bruce sat down on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and set himself on fire. This poem is a first-person interpretation of his final thoughts and concerns. It explores a complex relationship between the narrator (Bruce), nature (Mother) and climate resistance (the watermelon, a symbol of the “Climategate” and environmental denial by many prominent authors and figures). In the poem, the narrator explores the development of resistance—the growth of the seed—as he burns to death. Bruce’s decision was viewed by many as an extravagant suicide instead of a selfless sacrifice, and I allude to this with the narrator’s increasing hopelessness and desperation; despite being burned alive, the onlookers only paid attention to the growing “watermelon seed.” Sixty years ago, the immolation of Thích Quang Duc in protest against the Vietnam War sparked international impact; today, the immolation of Wynn Bruce to protest the climate crisis is unfairly shrouded in controversy and criticism. We are desensitized to the impending catastrophe and insist on arguing over a crumbling reality. The first thing that needs to change is the public’s perception: we need to hold corporations, governments, and individuals responsible for their role. Each individual, no matter how small, has a part to play in this crisis. My work begins with this poem, but it ends with political change and renewed vigor. And I hope that within each reader, a new watermelon seed—impetus of change, sustainability, and recovery—grows with every breath.