Climate Change Poetry

The poem below was first published in Drunken Boat.  We are pleased to print it here in advance of a poetry reading that members of Philadelphia PA IPL plan to attend February 1.


Poet Hila Ratzabi writes:
I am a member of Kol Tzedek synagogue, a progressive Jewish congregation in West Philly. I identify with my Jewish faith tradition, and my Jewish identity informs my relationship to social and environmental justice. For me, religion must stand for justice. All faith traditions have some component of justice in their teachings, and I believe that if representatives of a faith betray that commitment by engaging in any form of oppression then they have marred their faith. Sadly that is too often the case in this country. But as people of faith we must have an awareness of the danger of unchecked power — this relates to how we treat the earth and how we treat other people.

This poem was written a few months after Hurricane Sandy, which was a transformative event for me; it shook me out of a state of complicity and made me realize how immediate and dire the climate crisis is. After years of kind of knowing and accepting the reality of climate change in the abstract, I suddenly felt that sense of terror when seeing the effects of climate change pounding at my very door. I’m currently working on a book of poems that engages more deeply with the psychological and emotional effects of our awareness of climate change, and this poem is part of that project.

Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge the Day Before the End of the World
Before the waters fill the bridge’s mouth
Before the metal cathedral liquefies
Before the bolts explode like broken elbows
Before the wind sinks into the sizzling sea
Before the sun looks us straight in the eye
And says “I told you so”
Before my purse fills up with junk
And I can’t find my keys
And the fish can’t find their gills
And the ghosts have no place left to haunt
And the rest stops are flooded with soggy French fries
And all the used water bottles will never be empty again
As the dead owl by the side of highway stares up at the darkening sky
One wing raised straight into the air
Guts wide open like a slow yawn
As I hold my toes on the gas pedal
On the Palisades Parkway and I turn to a gas station on the New Jersey Turnpike
And I hold my notebook in my hand
I think if I can keep one poem going long enough
I can slow the end of the world like a leashed beast
But the afternoon is tilting
And the cars are speeding in both directions
And I’ll soon be late for dinner
And before we lose all the time we were given
I hop in the car and rush home to you
My only love, waiting in the quietest room of the house
with your warm hands in your lap.

—Hila Ratzabi
previously published in Drunken Boat