Last fall, I worked on putting together a mini art installation about climate refugees for a class. I collaborated with two of my friends from Nepal; one made a beautiful video, compiling statistics and interviews, while the other displayed some of his photography of the environment, overlaying landscape images of Abu Dhabi and Nepal. I wrote a poem in the perspective of a climate refugee – or at least, attempted to write one. Here it is:
the sea was my first friend.
three years old when it taught me
what colours were –
the silver of still waters
the cotton blue of late afternoon,
a copper sheet at sunset, and the
ink of waves at 10pm.
the sea was my first teacher.
it taught me how to count – 1….2…3…
the ocean has a music
older than our bones in the sand.
a rhythm more ancient than the pulse in our necks.
in the evenings, i would sit
by the hem of its skirt.
my father would bring the fishing line
and we would reach into the ocean’s lap
return home with dinner
spend the days washing salt out of our fingernails.
the sea taught me
the most ordinary of loves there is:
friendship. of trust – give and take, give and take
out and in, rise and fall, tide beneath my toes, tide beneath my feet,
tide and its music.
and to feel.
the sea taught me what it is to feel.
peace is that blue womb
where everything is all at once meaningless and meaningful.
happiness is the spiderwebs of sunlight
on morning waves.
sadness is the tide coming out, coming in.
a tune without feeling.
and i learnt from the sea
what fury is.
a different kind of fury than my father’s
when i steal an extra piece of fish. this kind of fury
could make the world stop breathing, my mother said
the earth is a clay pot
but we won’t stop baking it. she tells me
nature is sweating from the heat, it weeps with fatigue.
the oceans threaten to tip
like tears from under eyelids. far away, brazil shaves off its beard
and china smokes a cigarette.
i ask her, what am i supposed to do with these fairytales?
she takes my hand and tells me
the ocean is boiling.
don’t you believe it?
one day, this womb will break.
but we won’t be born again.
today, it is quiet.
mother always says be afraid of too much silence.
this earth was made for music.
in the air there is a violence. the sea trembles
like the mind of prince hamlet.
the dogs and chickens are perched on higher ground.
eyes wide open, mouths agape, while
my mother stares at the water. for
today, it is quiet.
the ocean trembles with stillness.
while something moves within, like a creature turning in
the womb it’s been living in.
the water feels as if it’s entered my head
a thought metastasizing in the brain.
in the great amniotic sac of the sea
there stirs a beginning and an end.
i remember my mother saying
once it ruptures
we will not be born again
and suddenly it rushes
like a volcano blooming outwards.
this kind of fury is different.
this is where the world goes blue
with wetness and ruin.
i watch my mother stand alone in the water
like a crab clinging hopelessly onto a rock that isn’t there.
the world is breaking around her and i think
the sea has taught me its final lesson:
what it is to be betrayed.
now my home hangs on a picket fence
like a used up tissue discarded in a bin. i went back
saw my childhood
burnt out like a cigarette.
there was nobody left. i lost my parents
to the ocean’s music
it engulfed them, led them astray
like the pied piper and his flute that day.
so i moved to the capital
where the sea only exists
on postcard images.
i lived amongst the traffic jams, the square buildings and landfills.
worked on and for nothing.
and every night, i heard the call of my friend, the rush of that last wave –
goodbye, it seemed to say.
it took everything from me
we spent so many days plundering the sea
plunging our fingers, our feet and fishing lines in.
of course it turned back
and fished us out instead. but we do not stop
our thievery. it boils with anger
yet we do not stop hurting it
then turning to ask for its embrace.
what can it do
but rage? this earth was made for music
it cannot stay still.
these days i watch national geographic
on my neighbor’s tv screen.
they say the sea will always exist
but will we?
we are the traitors.
in our blood, in our sweat, in our teardrops and wombs
there is saltwater, little pieces of the ocean
we have stolen for ourselves.
my mother used to say friendship
is give and take, give and take.
but all we do is take,
of course the sea will turn
and give us that embrace.
unlike us, it keeps its promises.
one day, it will take everything back
every little piece
and we will not be born again.
we will not be born again.