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Two Poems by Craig Santos Perez

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier” and “Good Fossil Fuels”

These poems are featured in the Climate notebook, which features art by Katrina Bello.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Glacier

recycling Wallace Stevens


Among starving polar bears,
the only moving thing
was the edge of a glacier.


We are of one ecology
like a planet
in which there were once 200,000 glaciers.


The glacier absorbs greenhouse gas.
We are a large part of the biosphere.


Humans and animals
are kin.
Humans and animals and glaciers
are kin.


We do not know which to fear more,
the terror of change
or the terror of uncertainty,
the glacier calving
or just after.


Icebergs fill the vast ocean
with titanic wrecks.
The mass of the glacier
disappears, to and fro.
The threat
hidden in the crevasse
an irreversible clause.


O vulnerable humans,
why do you engineer sea walls?
Do you not see how the glacier
already floods the streets
of the cities around you?


I know king tides,
and lurid, unprecedented storms;
but I know, too,
that the glacier is involved
in what I know.


When the glacial terminus broke,
it marked the beginning
of one of many waves.


At the rumble of a glacier
losing its equilibrium,
every tourist in the new Arctic
chased ice quickly.


Shell explored the poles
for offshore drilling.
Once, we blocked them,
in that we understood
the risk of an oil spill
to a glacier.


The sea is rising.
The glacier must be retreating.


It was summer all winter.
It was melting
and it was going to melt.
The last glacier fits
in our warm hands.

Good Fossil Fuels

recycling Maggie Smith

Earth is ruined, though I deny this to my children.
Earth is ruined, and I’ve ruined it
in a thousand carbon-intensive ways,
a thousand carbon-intensive ways
I’ll share with my children. The planet is at least
fifty percent polluted, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I deny this to my children.
For every sea there is waste thrown into the sea.
For every sacred place, a place fracked, logged,
bombed into dust. Earth is ruined and the planet
is at least half polluted, and for every green
garden, there’s a toxin that would poison you,
though I deny this to my children. I am trying
to sell them doubt. Any decent capitalist,
profiting from a climate disaster, squeals on about
good fossil fuels: This growth could be sustainable,
right? We could make this growth sustainable.

Reprinted from Habitat Threshhold (Omnidawn, 2020) by Craig Santos Perez. Copyright © 2020 by Craig Santos Perez. Used with permission of the author.