It’s time to restart “Poem of the Month” for 2019. I’ve chosen a newish one of my own to start with. I’ve just had a chapbook published that has some of my happier, chirpier poems of recent times – and I’ll tell you more about that soon.
But this isn’t one of those poems. I didn’t know about Extinction Rebellion when I wrote it, but now that I do, I’m dedicating it to them and their work.
Fire crawls a sigil up the flagpoles of the world,
erupts in updraft and swirl. Cars torch
like eucalypts, like houses. We seek out
the lowlands, retreat to floodplains, but fire
snaps at the edges, each hectare of letterbox
and ornamental shrub an open invitation. Go
lower, go deeper: crawl to the level of worms,
cowering from the circling threats above.
Every season now is fire season, prodigies
of heat extending tendrils into winter’s
vanishing comfort and hurt, sacrificing
spring’s new growth at blackened birth.
Our infrastructure flakes off like dead skin,
like burning cladding so carelessly applied
when the air was kinder, built to standards
designed for a more forgiving world.
Money still has meaning. There are enclaves,
protections available only to the super-rich,
illusions of safety and permanence. With
enough cash in hand you can relocate
to sheltered valleys, islands buffered
by the slower-warming sea, the greening remnants
of the worlds of ice – twin Goldilocks zones,
two thin rings of life receding polewards.
Or depart the surface world entirely, descend
to the cool of caves and abandoned tunnels
for a life of hydroponic food, recollected pleasures,
imitation picture windows set against blank rock,
gaze averted from the fire that burns above. Flame
swirls the sky, converting atmosphere from oxygen
to soot. The long spiral of lightning and accident
that sped us from campfires to mastery,
our history of combustion, now rains ashes
on our heads. This was always our endpoint,
foreshadowed when some hominid, transfixed,
reached out to grasp the embers of a forest fire.