alternate love letter

dear ________________,

with you i have learned love
is utopia & dystopia at the same time.
so love is Earth
& we are highly skilled to kill
it. like damn, what did you think? 
all the god in the gold
chains round our necks 
could make us beautiful, & holy 
& not human? we are
just bodies, drums
of water & chemicals & constructions, paper
-skinned. little marbles
of World rubbing
against each other, how
acid leaks from a cloud’s 
cheek more than rain. all this,
to say: we are ending.

 

Painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, “Two Calla Lilies on Pink”, 1928

Aftermath & Others, a Collage Series by Apu

Apu is a 37 years old queer/non-binary organic gardener & farmer and collage diy artist workin’ and livin’ on a organic seed breeding farm near Bremen/northern germany. She’s creatin’ collage artwork for more than 18 years now (doin’ a lot of coops with zines, bands, solidarity projects, collectives…) and is part of a small diy art collective named Theo Collective

“These three collages are some kind of series dealing with the question: how to get along with a upcomin’ apocalypse, in any kind of form?”

Time is Running Up


“:et’s cultivate a creative and vibrant culture of resistance, don’t let the system or a certain threat get you down. show love, creativity and passion to resist!”

Farewell

“What if we have to leave our place? Do we leave loved ones behind? Where will we live from now on? How will it change and affect our lives? These are very urging and relevant questions all over this world with reference to ongoing wars, climate change etc.”

Aftermath

“In the ruins of catastrophes in different forms, how is life moving on? What is the part of the younger generations? Those who grow up in apocalyptic surroundings? Do they have the courage, passion and creativity to rise like a phoenix from the ashes?”

Flux

By Mary Collins

The waves rolled me back and forth, gripping my little boat in a relentless catch and release. Salt water drenched the wooden bow and drifted towards the palm trees. There was no definite rhythm to this ebb and flow, which made it more difficult to navigate. The only way forward was to pull the oars. I paddled parallel to the shore, past the long rows of abandoned beach houses on the outskirts of town, and regularly glanced back at the wooden crates tied behind me. In the distance, seagulls flocked to the garbage-coated beach, a hurricane of white-and-black feathers, fighting over what remained of the area’s sea life. Their crowded chorus rang in my ears long after I passed them by.

Something felt wrong today. It wasn’t the clamor of the birds, or the loneliness of the buildings, or even the guilt surrounding the stolen contents of the crates behind me. I had long since convinced myself to stop worrying about these things. It was something in the air—a heavy, sticky feeling. A sense of dread. I moved more quickly than usual, frequently looking over my shoulder even though nothing was behind me but open water. I had to get back to Elodie.

I rounded the corner of the isthmus and could finally see our house, dwarfed by trees and overgrown bushes. The house stood on stilts intended to protect it from the dangers of floods and hurricanes. It had once seemed laughably high above the ground, but today the waves lapped all the way up to the base of the stilts. The stretch of beach out front had entirely disappeared. It looked rather claustrophobic, like it might be having difficulty breathing. I paddled up beside it, hopped out into the tepid, ankle-deep water, and dragged my canoe to the shore.

The stillness of the house frightened me. There was little to distinguish it from any of the other abandoned houses I’d passed along the way, except that the wood wasn’t rotting and a light was on in the upper window. Elodie did her best to make things homey, but I missed the signs of life that used to populate the beach and the lawn in the old days, now swallowed up by the tide. This wasn’t what we’d wanted. I was supposed to see Miko building sandcastles on the shore and knocking them down with a red bucket. Or Elodie and I wearing those tacky matching swimsuits that her parents bought us. Our friends would be there, too, with their children, and the kids would play in the water while we sat in hand-me-down beach chairs sipping at sangria from plastic wine glasses. Elodie would arch her head back and laugh that almost hysterical laugh that only her friends could bring out of her. I missed that most of all. Try as I might, she didn’t laugh that way alone with me—never quite that laugh. But still, she wouldn’t dream of leaving.

I carried the crate in through the back door, grunting slightly as I staggered up the carpeted stairs to the main floor. The anxiety I had felt out on the water began to loosen. The house smelled like Pine-Sol and bread, and upstairs the radio was buzzing with the soft cadences of Billie Holiday. Everything was going to be fine.

“Daniel? Is that you?”

Elodie threw open the door at the top of the stairs, and for a moment it framed a flash of concern on her face before she registered my presence. She relaxed and dropped something onto the counter next to her. It fell with a metallic clatter. A knife? Was she really so worried about intruders? We were miles from the nearest sign of civilization. But then again, Elodie always preferred not to take any chances. She came running down to meet me, immediately grabbing the other end of the crate and relieving me of half the weight.

“I told you to tell me when you were coming in,” she said reproachfully. “You shouldn’t have to carry this all by yourself.”

She kissed me, warm, and pulled away again as we climbed the stairs, then crouched to open the crate.

“I will next time,” I promised. It was important to her, although I hated asking for help.

“Seriously, Daniel. It doesn’t make you any less of a man to let your wife help you with a box now and then.”

I wanted to tell her what I had seen in town, but I knew it would only upset her more. The boarded up buildings and waterlogged streets were in worse shape every time I went for supplies. Mold thrived on the damp walls of empty businesses, and abandoned dogs and cats had begun to roam the streets, forming formidable gangs of tattered fur and wandering teeth. Everyday more and more people heeded the government advisory, packed up their things, and paid the exorbitant price for gas to drive inland, north of the coast.

“There are hardly any shops open anymore,” I told Elodie. “Even if we had money, we wouldn’t be able to buy anything.”

We were sitting now on opposite sides of the box, taking out containers of rice and crates of dried fruit. Elodie’s forehead puckered and she searched my face, worrying.

“What are you saying?” she asked.
“Just that things are going to be a little harder now.”
“But we’re gonna stick it out. Right?”
I hesitated. There was still plenty of food left in town that we could continue stealing, and I wanted so badly to reassure her and see the worry wash away from her dark eyes.

“Right,” I said, trying to sound confident. “It’s your home. It’s our home.”

The house was Elodie’s, a family property originally owned by her grandparents. She inherited it before we got married. It was located ten minutes away from her childhood home, in the same quiet corner of Florida’s pan handle that she’d lived in her entire life. When I met her in Miami, I was a college student, fresh out of an adolescence that was spent constantly moving. Elodie gave me something to hold onto. This was before the fuel crisis and long before the mass displacement of recent years, long enough ago that my family could travel the country in the full peace of our privilege. Florida was just another state at first, no more my own than any other place I’d lived. Until Elodie. The stability of her life intrigued me. I thought I was lucky to be a part of it. But as the sea rose, our luck was running out. “Sticking it out” implied that at some point “it” would be over and the town would return to normalcy, pick up the pieces and carry on—as if the very forces of nature were not against us.

“Why all the towels?” Elodie asked, removing cloth after cloth from the bottom of the crate.
“Oh. Well, it seems like a waste to keep picking up paper towels and toilet paper. They run out so quick.”
Elodie made a face, but nodded.

“It’s more environmentally friendly, too,” I added, grinning.
“A lot of good that does us now,” said Elodie.
“Where’s Miko?”
“Napping.”

Miko’s bedroom was in the attic, the highest point of the house, as an extra security measure. This was not really necessary. The sea did not rise overnight. But it was a strange comfort to me. It was easier to relax knowing that my son was sleeping above me, somehow a little farther removed from our worries.

He was the reason that we stayed, at first. The day he was born, the hospital media screens were all streaming the same news story: the newly-formed emergency Climate Impact Bureau had decided that the Florida coast was no longer a safe place to live. But that was a warning, not a command, and with a newborn baby, it was clear that we weren’t in a position to just leave. And we were so happy, in spite of it all. So we tried to keep things as normal as possible while our town moved out from under us.

The changes came gradually at first. When I was laid off at the construction company, I took up odd jobs around the house, building my canoe and waterproofing the bottom story of the house to keep myself busy. Elodie kept things cheerful in her own special way, making preserves and singing lullabies in the evenings. We danced on the balcony. The months slipped by. When Miko turned two, we gathered the few of our friends who were still in the area and threw a party with a boxed chocolate cake and some ancient yellow-and-green streamers that we had stashed away. Soon afterwards I started scavenging in the city. Now those last friends had left, too, but we still set the table for dinner every night.

When Miko woke up, Elodie brought him down and I took out the last items from the box—two glass coke bottles, the old-fashioned kind which Elodie loved so much, and a small plastic soccer ball. Treasures from the abandoned gas station. We sat on the carpet and took turns rolling the ball back and forth. Miko giggled everytime he caught it. Elodie and I drank the coke and listened to the jazz drifting from the radio. It was some upbeat song with a walking bass line, and I started tapping my fingers to the rhythm. I wrapped an arm around Elodie’s shoulders and tried to feel the fullness of the moment, let the richness of our little family wash over me. All I wanted was to take care of them. But just as I was beginning to relax, the song faded out and a siren cut in. Elodie dropped the soccer ball and Miko watched it roll away to the corner of the room with no attempt to stop it.
The siren blared five times and a man began to speak.

The National Hurricane Advisory is issuing a severe hurricane warning as a Category 4 storm approaches the Florida coast. The National Bureau of Climate Impact is mandating an evacuation of the panhandle in advance of the storm. Residents are advised to turn off gas, electricity, and water utilities prior to evacuation. Contact your local….

I was already on my feet, looking from the old radio to the crate still sitting in the middle of the room, calculating what to take with us, what to leave behind. Would we all fit in the canoe, make it to town that way? Or would it be better for me to go first and send for help?

“No.”

Elodie’s eyes were wide and wild and she was clutching Miko to her with unwarranted ferocity. Her hair, rife with humidity, surrounded her like a mane. The radio crackled and fear prickled in my chest.

“Elodie, it’s a hurricane,” I said. “We’ll have to evacuate.”
“I know what a hurricane is.” She set her jaw. “Once we leave, they’ll never let us come back. The government, I mean. They’ll say it’s too dangerous.”
“And for good reason!”
I was tired of sugarcoating things for her.
“Listen, Elodie. You don’t go into town, you never take the boat out, you don’t know what it’s like out there. We can’t stay here with a hurricane on the way. We’re not going to stay here with our kid.”

I reached for Miko, wanting to smooth his baby curls and soothe his anxiety, but she pulled him away, jerking backwards and throwing me off balance. She was stronger than I thought.
“No,” she spat at me. “You promised me we would stay. It’s safer here—you said so yourself.”

I tried to explain, heat rising to my forehead, that all that was before the hurricane, that this changed things, and that if she didn’t come with me now, I would go on my own and alert the authorities, who would surely take her away from the house. But through everything I said, Elodie just rocked Miko back and forth, saying, my baby, my baby. Her baby. It was beginning to rain outside, a warning from the heavens, and I slammed my fist on the coffee table with frustration. The half-empty coke bottles teetered on the edge, then toppled to the ground and shattered. Elodie shrieked.

“I’m your husband!” I said, a strangled feeling in my throat. “I know what’s best for us! How the hell do you think you’d survive here without me bringing you food—and water, and medicine, and god knows whatever else you decide that you need?”

Elodie said nothing. Her eyes flashed wordless fury and she turned away so I could only see the tightening of her jaw. Miko started crying, too young to comprehend our argument. Elodie remained silent as she hunched over him. She had never looked so small or so scared. I wanted to say something else, to soften the space between us, but the anger was still boiling behind my eyes and I couldn’t find the words. The rain picked up outside, creating a furious rhythm on the windowpane.

“If that’s how you feel, you should leave,” Elodie said finally.
“What?”
She sat up straight, calmly now, her baby quietly resting in her lap.
“Elodie, I—”
“Leave.”


The inside of the storm was all wind. Daniel had not expected that. The rain became an afterthought, or perhaps more accurately a precondition, completely unimportant compared to the instability of the howling air. Windows shattered and roofs fell. One man’s canoe stood little chance of reaching any kind of help.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this quickly. Elodie knew that. Usually there were grace periods after the warning signs and enough time to outrun the clouds. And it wasn’t clear who was to blame—the storm itself for its unpredictability or the humans monitoring it for their incompetence. But somewhere along the line, something had snapped.

It made little difference in the end, and would receive little attention because of the scarcity of people in the area. The storm had been coming anyway. It had always been coming.


When the clouds cleared, Elodie searched the beach for hours. She held Miko tightly by the hand, guiding him through the destruction. Tangles of trees and bushes that once characterized her childhood lay uprooted on the sand, intermingled with variant debris. She looked into each pile, fearful of seeing Daniel’s lifeless hand or leg or, perhaps worse, the sweater he had been wearing, her favorite, the blue one that brought out his eyes. Miko would not stop asking where Daddy was, and Elodie could not think how to answer. He was in every palm branch, every piece of driftwood, around every corner. She quickened her pace. The waves washed in and out on the shore. She began to look at them, too, but she could not bear the idea of seeing him there under the water. He had left in his canoe right before the storm picked up. She’d called him back, called until her throat grew hoarse, but the winds were too loud and the boat was too far and he was gone before he could hear a word.

She walked until she reached town, and sank to her knees in the rubble of the buildings. After a time, someone found her, a rescue worker who directed her to an aid station with a shock blanket and a truck to take her and Miko away. The palm leaves sighed in the wind and they joined the thousands before them moving north

The Mountains Are Melting: A Discussion about Climate Change in Nepal

By Rastra Raj Bhandari

My first real awareness of climate change was at the age of 19 as an aid worker in the foothills of Mt. Everest after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. During my stay, I noticed that my hotel staff left the guests behind and hiked uphill for 2 hours every night seeking shelter over the fear of a potential glacial flooding, triggered by the recent earthquake.

My newfound curiosity about climate change gradually turned into a dedicated passion and career aspiration. To further a career in this field and make a difference, I did internships with the World Wildlife Fund working on projects ranging from conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and scaling climate finance in Fiji to representing the U.A.E in climate negotiations as a youth diplomat. I was initially anti-corporation as I saw them as only a part of the problem. But after working on the environmental divisions of a corporate firm, I had my perspective changed. I understood how closely linked all different stakeholders are, and that the private and the public sector are often working together in trying to combat climate change. Over my university years, my outlook on climate change expanded from naive, sophomoric activism to an appreciation for the depth of the problem.

It felt great to be around the drivers of climate finance and policy at such a young age. At the same time, I acknowledge that I was disappointed with how slow things were and how powerless I felt. However my experiences strengthened my aspiration to build a career in the field of climate change. Growing up, I used to travel with my father, who studied insects for a living. Some of my fondest memories are of hiking in the Himalayas and camping in the wilderness as a boy scout. I felt that I needed to act considering the future generation would never have the opportunity to experience nature like I did. Perhaps even in my generation many people have not had that chance yet. This was a powerful revelation, the one that prompted me to explore how people view nature and in particular climate change in present day.

Studying at a global university like NYU had its benefits as well as drawbacks. While I traveled the world and understood the global nature of climate change, I knew I was losing touch with the impacts of climate change in Nepal. Still, I looked back to my time at Everest and what must be happening with melting in the Himalayas. What surprised me was that there was very little I could learn about it, given that it’s rarely talked about. Conversations on melting glaciers are dominated by Antarctica and Greenland – while extremely important, they are not the only large ice-reserves in the world. Organizations like ICIMOD are doing incredible work in understanding glacial melting in the Himalayas, but their work was often limited to the science. While I respect science, I questioned what could happen if we channeled the money that goes into climate research towards solving climate change.

The lack of resources to understand what was happening in my country frustrated me. I could not find a single book that explored melting in the Himalayas and portrayed the human story of climate change. Why is climate change such an abstract concept of science and equations when it should be about the people living there? That prompted me to learn more – my mentors thought I should ditch my corporate summer plans and go back to Nepal and write a book that not only studies the impacts of glacial flooding to downstream communities but also explores the geopolitics of the Himalayas as a paradigm for the appropriate policies to address climate change.

The Himalayas are not just an aesthetically beautiful mountain range. They stretchs over 8 countries and contain the world’s largest volume of glacier ice and perennial snow outside of the polar regions. The melting of the Himalayas puts a quarter of the world’s population at risk from water scarcity and it endangers downstream communities from adverse climate induced disasters.

Presently, increased atmospheric warming and changing precipitation patterns are causing glaciers in the high Himalayas to retreat at an unprecedented scale. Alarmingly, there has been a 27% decline in glacial volume in the Himalayas in the past several decades. The resulting meltwater is accumulating to form glacial lakes which could potentially be tapped to produce hydropower but are also extremely vulnerable to bursting and causing downstream flooding, often triggered by large avalanches or earthquakes.

The most recent study by ICIMOD released in 2019 suggests that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates, the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100. Under such circumstances, temperatures in the Himalayas can increase up to 4.4. Degrees Celsius by 2100 causing radical disruptions to food and water supplies, and mass population displacement. China, India and Pakistan need to join hands to solve this crisis, this is a major political discourse that should be happening but is not.

But what could I do to help?

Over the summer, I set off on a motorbike from the border to India riding along the Koshi river – one of the largest rivers in South Asia – upwards towards the source of the river in the mountains. My destination was the infamous Tsho Rolpa Glacial Lake – one of the most vulnerable glacial lakes in the world. After 12 days of walking along the traditional walking route used by ancestral Tibetans moving into Nepal, I ended in the foothills of Mt. Gaurishankar – next to a massive 1.7km2 lake, which did not exist several decades ago. The lake is one of the only 3 lakes where the government has created an artificial outlet to drain water gradually and contain the crisis. Standing in front of this lake was a powerful feeling that I cannot fully express in words. It was difficult to comprehend that a lake this beautiful would be the cause of devastation for human society. That was when I fully realized the power of water.

Over generations, water has played an important role in shaping human civilization. From the ice-age to floodings to droughts. From culture to religion, water plays a central character more often than not. Anecdotes, personal stories, fables – water has played a role to play in shaping human civilization.

I am going to tell you the human story of glacial flooding in Nepal. Before I begin sharing these stories, in no way am I arguing that the local people are right. What I am trying to do is to share what they have to say about climate change.

According to traditional beliefs, there used to be a big garden in the Himalayas for yaks to herd. Then one day, god came to the dream of the Sherpa people, and told them to take their yaks away. Some people didn’t agree and the next day, many yaks were killed because the mountain suddenly melted to form a lake. Among the older generation, it was common to hear that environmental disasters were happening because we are upsetting the mountain gods, a classic ‘act of good’ – common in other societal beliefs as well. Some locals were upset with the recent influx of workers from the South of Nepal to work on the reconstruction efforts after the earthquake as they were unaware and unaccustomed to respecting local norms. For instance, I was told that urinating and defecating near the water sources are the causes for flooding.

I spent a few days over the summer with a wonderful host-mother, Janmu Sherpa. She runs a small tea house along the river bank – she is positive, full of energy, and has 11 pet goats that she looks after. Like many of her age in the mountains, she believes in fatalism – a belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. She also knows that glacial floods are very unpredictable, just like earthquakes. All Nepalese know that there might be an earthquake again – but none of us know when it will actually hit. So does that mean we stop living ? No, we keep it in the back of our minds and move on. What else can you do when you have so many other priorities? Let fate decide, she said.

Simply put, there are too many other things for people to worry about when climate change is classified as part of the “uncertainties.” At the same time, although the Himalayas disappearing by 2100 seems close, it is very long term for people who struggle to put food in their plates every night.

For instance, I interacted with several tour guides who were there to scope a potential trek. Tsho Rolpa Glacial Lake is formed next to Tashi Labtsa Pass – a treacherous mountainous pass which famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary, acknowledged to be one of the hardest passes to cross in the world. Tashi Labtsa is special because for those daring adventurers who can cross it, it provides an alternate route to the over commercialized route to Everest. And with more melting in this section, some tour guides believed the pass will open up and be more accessible. One of them, who chose to remain anonymous said, “Climate is definitely changing! When we used to take tours a decade ago we had to walk in snow for many days. Today, there is barely any snow in the routes. For instance, Everest Base Camp was very difficult to reach because of the weather, and very few people went there. Look at today, it doesn’t snow at all, and even children go to base camp! It’s much warmer but we don’t complain as we are getting more work.”

Then, the most surprising of stories! There was an overwhelming majority of people who thought that glacial flooding was a hoax, primarily created by the Japanese. According to local beliefs, the Himalayas are full of rare gems and minerals; and foreigners (particularly Japanese people) have for a while attempted to find excuses to mine the Himalayas to find them. The Japanese were pioneers in glacial research and were the first ones to discover the threats of glacial flooding in the region. They were, however, not particularly well received, and at one point, there was news of local sherpas threatening the Japanese scientists for sensationalizing the threats of glacial flooding. During my 3 months stay in the mountains, it was common to hear discourse on the inefficiency of the government. For instance, “Why is the government interested in spending millions of dollars to mitigate climate change when the government has never invested in schools, health-posts and roads in the mountains?” There was large mis-trust over the intent of the government.

After hearing these stories, I wanted to know if the youth felt the same way. That was hard to do because there are simply no young people in the mountains. Most of the Nepalese youth are either studying in India, Australia or the U.S. or working primarily in the Gulf and raising remittance for the Nepalese Economy.

I traveled to the nearest big city and conducted a survey among 250 university students and a similar survey among the same demographics in Kathmandu – the capital city of Nepal, to make a comparative analysis. I learned about their awareness and perceptions of climate change, and I estimated their willingness to pay to protect the Himalayas and the lives that depend on the mountains. Awareness was based off their knowledge about glacial flooding while perception was based on their attitude towards climate change and priorities. In doing this, I found that perception of the environment is directly correlated to an increased valuation of the environment while simply knowing about climate change has no effect.

Indifference towards climate change might occur because someone is not directly affected by it or because they have other priorities. Regardless, this revelation has a message for policy makers around the world. How do you incorporate climate policies in an environment where climate change is not as big of a priority in the minds of local people?

But, there’s also the question of why we expect people to make individual sacrifices when the top 100 companies are responsible for 70% of global emissions.

The mountains are melting fast with people who are unable to stop it neither adapt to having to put the problem off their minds to continue to survive. Alongside a massive shift in the responsibilities of the top 100 companies, there also needs to be a shift in our global consciousness. We will not simply be losing the Himalayas in less than 100 years, which should be sad enough, but rivers will run right through the lives of real people, almost 1.4 billion of them.

Photograph by Rastra Raj Bhandari

Hazed

Hazed is a short collection of poetry on the total penetration of the palm oil industry in our daily life, as well as its oft unseen effects on animals, plants, and indigenous communities.

By destabilizing our capitalist human gaze, I rediscovered the magnitude of the problem—not only are non-human lives completely destroyed, but the palm oil industry also holds eerily colonial characteristics. The rainforests in Malaysia used to be hideouts for the anti-colonial communist resistance movement, the grounds of which the palm oil industry have now claimed, thus erasing nonhuman witnesses to history. Furthermore, fauna like orangutans and sun bears are forced out of forests. They often turn to the surrounding palm oil plantations for food, where they are treated as pests and brutally shot down. Additionally, increasing colonization of land for commercial use gravely endangers the lives of indigenous peoples. Their food and medicinal supplies are dwindling, and their waters are poisoned by the pesticides used by palm farmers. As their land diminishes, their youth, seeing no future in the dying tribes, move to cities and adopt new languages, and hence new identities.

National boundaries do not control natural environments. The palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia has led to the deterioration of rainforests and human life within and beyond. Territories like Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand are affected by the haze caused by the slash and burn technique of land clearing as well. However, the utilisation of palm oil has reached an almost ubiquitous level, and turning to other plant oil alternatives will lead to other consequences. Like our many dependencies, our addiction to palm oil is a symptom and enabler of our accelerating slide into irreversible environmental destruction.

Eulogy for the Orangutan

It wasn’t you
It was the fire that took away her child who crumble
In the greedy fire like Israeli troops storming in
She screeched as the world ate
Burnt limbs, felt no pain in the inferno
Until unconscious, at the foot of a tree
She was picked up by creatures who looked into a mirror
But only saw where the skin peeled red, like raw steak
Hauled her into a truck and took pictures
Just like that, an internet sensation

I heard she succumbed to her injuries
The hospital could not do much
For a dying flame. They said she was severely malnourished
There was no emergency contact, nor funeral wreaths
Only a fleeting image on the scrolling screen
On another hazy day, when the smell of grilling satay
Tempts the passerby on the street

Little House

School is canceled
Sister jumped for joy and turned the TV on full blast
Mama said we should help her with the housework
Get to cleaning the behinds of dusty cupboards and spider-webbed corners

It is very hot
And I have cut myself on broken glass
Trying to shut the windows to keep the bad air out
Sister threw a plastic cup at my head and I saw flashes of yellow and red

Our cats ran up and down the stairs
Leaving behind clumps of fur that Papa hates
So he screamed at Mama for his financial rut
And locked himself in with the air conditioner

After we finished crying there was still a lot to do
Mama had left the house into the grey world, said she’s not coming back
At least she’s got a car
We better clean the ceiling fan and mop up the blood

In case she comes home coughing
Will we have dinner tonight?
We watch the evening news with swollen eyes, just in case
Feeling too big for this little house

Oxygen

I saw you on the hospital bed in my dream last night
The tubes made you look superhuman
The same spell they casted on grandfather’s static figure
As a last hurrah he loudly gasped for air, his death throe bulged his fat eyeballs
Before all calmed down

Already, your face constantly in masks during the haze seasons
And your pale skin twitching as you cough and sneeze
Or falling asleep on a plank, with an air purifier humming eerily
Alert comatose, alive vegetable
Seeing, feeling, but not moving
Life around the house goes faster, faster

You said next year you would run away from the smoke
Those bastards, clearing land and endangering your lungs
You would take a plane, and go to lands untouched by fire
Where the birds of paradise fly low
And waters are pregnant with life
And there on a hammock, you would think about the family you left behind
But breathing, at last,
Maybe then you’d start thinking what
You are living for.

A forgotten war

When the bulldozers trampled your voluminous body
Money hungry, trembling at the potential energy
You carry, I was angered by their audacity
For you were a creature of many in the past
Here, fungi consumed by slugs
Above, a bird nest fern overrun by ant colonies
The colorful hornbill once built a nest on the tree over there
Who stood tall amongst her sisters
And hidden, softly breathing,
Freedom fighters anticipated attacks

I held my breath as colonial descendants
Felled yet another acre
Your friends and comrades, howling
Now refugees on bare lands. Some shot down in defending their birthright,
Some charred to carcasses, or simply disappeared
No international outcry and no memory etched as proof

Only more trucks, more toiling bodies.
As your skin thins and dries, new settlers come:
First the rats, then the snakes, and then the owls
I know you miss your old friends
I saw a starving sun bear dig for insects one afternoon, a year later
They shot her with a crooked grin

Drying out, your scarcity
Feeds abundance elsewhere

Uncharismatic microfauna

Oh, you unnamed millions
Of scaly skin or feathery backs
Or abundant eyes or twitchy legs
I hunted on the internet for your names, or a face
But no one cares about you
Your brains too small and your bodies not plush-toy replicable
Like the Sumatran tiger
You don’t have wet eyes like the Orangutan
Nor you are big and steady like the Javan rhinoceros
You backboneless creatures, our little
Ligaments of the forests, without many organs
You easily hide
When a monkey briefly blinks and rubs his eye
You disappear into tree trunks and edges of the screen
Die within days
Without the chance to even become peripheral

Dendi

His face carries a hundred thousand faces
People whose lineage embedded in
Landscapes I do not understand
I see his firm stature, rooted.
As alien bulldozers and lorries
Come to shrink a country

Nativity here is not skin deep
Nor is it claimed with such ferocity and greed
On the basis of national borders
But like an exposed land the richness leeches
Battered by the currents of modernity that sees no prize in love
Eats away at the core. Emptying out
His brothers, who saw no excitement in watching medicines go extinct
And pygmy elephants limping to find bare land after land
Run to cramped shop lots and adopt another face

He says the toxic is in the waters
And in the air. It chews away at the fibers of his roots, forbidding natural growth
Like rotating machinery extracting oil. Churning, churning
To be bottled up in plastic labels, as dizziness settles
Into pure oil, sealed tight
In tanks like stolen inheritance
By dried out hands, like a sacrificial ritual for the documentaries
A day’s worth of work done, as Dendi walks away from the camera
And the worker washes his face before dinnertime

Hazed Children

When the haze season begins
And breathability becomes a headline
Competition in my classroom pops open like a champagne bottle
Starting with the boy with the white turtle shell mask
The next day, a girl comes in with a pink Hello Kitty one
I know she has trouble breathing through the fabric
So I wore a paper thin one, going back to the basics
Which prompted the kid with a mole on his face to bring in a heavy-duty gas mask
In awe, the teacher came in the next day
Abandoning his completely

Our daily reading becomes muffled
As the creaking ceiling fans spin above us
And the windows grow heavy with soot
Elsewhere, schools get canceled on Fridays and Mondays
While us Northern children, tough like tigers
Strain our eyes to find our daddies in the crowd
As soon as the bell rings
To return to homes with air conditioners, hot showers
Before the evening news fizzles into snores on the couchAnd we tuck ourselves into bed, dreaming of the December holidays

Honey

She cradles her child, humming softly
The tune of the rising sun, a lullaby to celebrate
The golden crescent around his neck, he breathes gently the heavy air
She remembers stories of a quieter time, where
Honey was in abundance, and fear near absent
Standing on two hind legs or crawling amongst the undergrowth
You lived amongst food, and spirits who tire of life outside
Watch over you with tenderness

Baby, baby
You’re beautiful like honey
Baby, baby
What will you do when I am gone?

She cannot bear to tell him how it always goes
His paws are too small, she hopes they never chop them off
His face is too precious, she hopes they never lay eyes on it
His curious snout, puppy-like, so many times she pressed her own against it
And saw their ancestors, muscular and vain
By chance if they were to take him, it would not be the first
But let this be the last; she would rather be shot than
Feel an empty chest, nowhere to go

Baby, baby
You’re beautiful like honey
Baby, baby
What will you do when I am gone?

Beyond the fringes of the shrinking jungle
In a run-down hut, where water tastes like earth
And snakes are common as mosquitos
A girl cradles her firstborn child, humming softly
Her husband just left with the boys on the truck for another day’s work
She remembers stories of a quieter time, when
Family provided abundance, and fear near absent

Baby, baby
You’re beautiful like honey
Baby, baby
What will you do when I am gone?

Monster(s)

Forgive me, for I did not mean to kill
Long ago they took my ancestors by the seeds
From a land far away. The climate felt right for germination
On surgical tables and glass plates, they altered me many times over
Eugenics, I think you call it that, against the grain of my nature
And then sowed duplicates on raw land with such precision

I fail to recognize myself, when I see rows and rows of
The unalive. I am unsure if they are copies of me or
If I am copies of them. Like cows whose milk is pumped forcefully
To pour into cereal bowls. I am taken forcefully to make cereal
And more. It brings me pleasure, to know how much I am needed,
And to see those who exploit me become so vulnerable

Those creatures killed in my name, I assumed they
Were not meant for world domination. I am in your digestive
System and the air you breathe in. I have men in suits and
Power in their pens protecting my right to grow in larger numbers
And your petitions are useless against chocolates and baked goods
For I have become one with everything you desire.

Photograph by Isaac Cordal