This is a newly commissioned poem for the Bristol Festival of Nature.

 

First They Came …

after Martin Niemöller

 

First, the rains came hard as heart attacks:

tributaries, rivers swollen;

floodplains at sea for months.

And I did nothing because I

did not live on a floodplain.

But I saw the refugees on television,

cradling confused dogs in dinghies,

paddling for higher ground,

leaving behind them homes

haunted by ghost flotillas of tins

and saucepans adrift

on a brown tide in flooded kitchens.

 

Then, the hurricanes came so fast

they unspun meaning from their names,

and we had to coin new words

for storms that uprooted whole towns

from their east coast zip codes

like so many potato drills.

And I did nothing because I

did not live on America’s eastern seaboard.

But I marvelled at YouTube shorts

of houses imploding like punctured lungs.

 

When drought came to the Mediterranean

it came so often that farmers walked away

from their fields, were found hanging

from rafters in barns even the rats

had abandoned, or were swept

into shanties like sirocco-blown dust

into the pithcraters of tangerines.

And I did nothing because I

did not live in southern Italy,

but I cursed the distended price

of olives and chianti.

 

Rainforest became savannah;

I carved my imported rib-eye.

Water stress headached through Africa;

I hosed down my Range Rover.

 

But when the great ice-sheets calved,

and the seas rose like loaves –

those sundry states of emergency,

the skyrocketing price of land,

the peoples in diaspora,

the conflict and the chaos,

the everyone-for-himself –

I did nothing because it was too late.

 

They are coming for me

in a frigate strewn with bones

hoving into view

from my penthouse balcony.

And there is no-one left to object.

 

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