Today, we time travel. We can do that, we’re poets. Let’s set the dial forward just a bit and think about what it will mean to have lost something that is now just barely hanging on. How will we feel? What will we remember? What will we have learned?
Elegy. Write an elegy for some aspect of the natural world or human culture that is disappearing. An elegy is an ancient Greek poetic form traditionally written to commemorate someone who has died. It is typically comprised of three components: (1) a lament, expressing grief and loss, (2) praise for the lost person or thing, and (3) some final thought of consolation.
Do a bit of research first. What unique qualities does your subject have that will be lost? What will that mean for the rest of the world? For you? Write about an endangered species, an island or city threatened by rising sea levels, a Unesco World Heritage Site on the verge of disappearing. Explore photos and videos of your subject. Listen to recordings of a language on the verge of extinction.
Here’s what I wrote today about the Great Barrier Reef.
Coral Sea fringe, you were mighty! Visible from space.
Cyclone-ravaged, choked by the far-flung dust of desert sandstorms,
beset by sucking starfish. You endured.
But then one stark white coral.
Albino mushroom pedestal,
stack of bone china plates. And another.
Soon vast tracts blanched in the heated waves.
What vampire, what sucking leach, what white witch of Narnia
made the overnight chalk gardens?
Tangled heaps of deer antlers, branching bones,
rimed hoarfrost landscape, flash-frozen and still.
For a while you lived on, stolid and glowing
white as fiber optic cables. Fish came and,
not stopping, glided on to the open sea.
But, your algae expelled, you were starving,
rooted in the sterile waters of the tropics,
your brittle skeleton buffeted by currents.
Regions crumbled, limbs snapped,
and with a sudden soundless shudder, it was done.
Gone the whiskered angelfish, orange clownfish,
cobalt blue damselfish, and frowning gold cubies.
Gone the fluttering fields of pink and blue anemones.
Gone the turquoise parrotfish with their tiny nibbling beaks.
Gone the glowing yellow-spiked surgeonfish,
pouting striped triggerfish, and scuttling crabs.
Gone the needle-clustered sea urchins.
Gone the hinge-jawed trout, pink like watermelon flesh,
with their ice-blue freckles. Gone the bobbing sea horses.
Gone the roving shadows of speckled grouper
and barbell-eyed hammer heads.
Gone the sage turtles with their scarred faces.
Gone the blossom-pink fingered polyps,
glowing lavender footstools, sulfurous sheafs of ochre fans.
Gone the cerebral tangerine folds, mint green
branching structures, rubbery soft pink hearts.
Gone the great clustered pipe organs.
Gone one quarter of the earth’s sea creatures.
Bones furred with algal turf. A murky
seaweed forest marks your grave.
We know, now, that there are patches
of heat-resistant coral off the coast of Kimberly.
In 8,000 years a new reef will teem with life
because Nature always finds a way.
Trust we must in that. We won’t be here to see it.