Issue 17 (2019): RE Nature
In this issue of Understorey Magazine, our contributors do not lord over nature's bounty. Nor do they stand aside in reverence or awe. They do not separate themselves at all—from nature, or from a nature in crisis.
Stick this time – as in, half-formed century – with a pin / into the butterfly thorax, into embolism: / there is not a word in every language for / extinction event / but sometimes there are / a few / words for burning / neiamgla'tijig
to the tiny ones / Caribbean Monk Seal Nasal Mite / and the nameless ones / a frog from Sri Lanka / to the sleek-skinned water dwellers / Yangtze River Dolphin / and the dog-faced winged ones / soaring in the dusk / Small Samoan Flying Fox
Before the storm, when you were still a brand-new person, in those weeks of late summer when the barometric pressure was high and the sky clear blue, we stayed mainly in the big park where there's a real forest and a river.
And so, I hold two beliefs, as we all do here in the Anthropocene: I have a child, though I believe the population of humans should go down. I travel, have travelled, though I fear this travel is one of the worst things we can do....
There are too many palm trees. / The sky, overcrowded with clouds, / towers with thunderheads / every monsoon afternoon. Too much beach. / At dusk the tide slides in, / rubs its rippling silver skin on the rocks, / licks its tongue along the sand.
Let me tell you this bright and / twisting thing. The natural world dictates / letters for its secretary / to transcribe, just as the squirrel / with the white ears takes pains to / pivot on its upstage leg, and a robin / turns sideways to imitate Alfred Hitchcock
The moment I knew it was time to give up sheep farming is etched into my memory. It was late February and lambing season. Checking the barn, I saw a ewe straining. She was trying to birth her lamb, but the lamb’s knees had gotten jammed....
Snow slides in clots / down the windshield, car fan on defrost set high, wiper blades / can’t do enough. / The guest is a lawyer, a woman, Indigenous / even-voiced, firm, implacable / in my ears, in the storm, she repeats / Apocalypse / Water / Hypoxia / Trees
we saw the future before we lived it, / we learned new definitions of the word “apocalypse” / we screamed chants that rang out like machine gun fire / when we pulled the trigger of our lips, / gun cocked and ready, / like my tongue; cocked and ready. / fire, aim, steady
One night, at the height of winter, / a polar bear swam the widening ocean that / drowned her mother. She paddled, heavy with / grief and her wet white coat. / Overhead, the snowless sky was dark / and the air was hot.
It's grief, / alright. / the same burning arrow / through the heart's gills / the same stone weight / of emptiness / — loss / of words / of what to do / of a place / that doesn't ache / the way the living room, / the bedroom and the kitchen / ache
It’s always a guessing game: how long to wait before I accept that no one is coming. Thankfully, she answered quickly. She had a go-away face, though, her eyes hard and a tension around her mouth as if she were trying to spit me out.
Crack up and out, shake / fragments of egg off the face. / use the largest shells as backbone, / as home. creep across dank, damp sands / to undulating ebb of rip current and flow along / swift Atlantic gulf stream
Beyond lit panes, a flimsy fragile feathered thing / wavers on the highest bough, her scant weight teetering / above a paisley floor stippled with shadow and trembling / light. The bird trills as though her heart will fly /
Questions about perceptions of weather and climate are often a part of my research and I'm genuinely curious to learn the responses. Here in the Gambia, however, I can now almost predict what I will hear: the weather is indeed changing.
I ask the worker to make a copy of the sheet of paper and I stare at the plant which is falling over. Someone must have thought a little green would do the office good but the plant wasn't so sure. There was no sunlight in the office and there was no rain.
1. greet the water / plunge your hands under the surface, fingers dancing in the tide / remember it like an old friend / like a beginning / like a home / speak your name to this place / listen for its response say thank you / 2. say thank you again....
In October 2019, Understorey Magazine and the Alexa McDonough Institute organised a two-day workshop for youth. The focus was on writing about the climate and ecological crisis: journalism, poetry, spoken word, fiction, essay.