Poem of the Week | December 13, 2021
“Climate Change” by Gary McDowell
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Climate Change” by Gary McDowell!
Gary McDowell has published seven books, the latest of which are Aflame (White Pine Press, 2020), winner of the 2019 White Pine Press Poetry Prize; Caesura: Essays (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2017); and Mysteries in a World That Thinks There Are None (Burnside Review Press, 2016), winner of the 2014 Burnside Review Book Award. He is also the co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (Rose Metal Press, 2010). His poems and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Nation, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, and New England Review, among others. He teaches creative writing at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
The brambles and the thickets, a mockingbird,
dozens of cicadas screeching. The right-wing
pundits say that at this time, our climate is steady,
but where will Noah dock the ark when our cities
sink into the sea? Something once alive decomposes
in my backyard—faster than I can mow, the clover
grows to cover what once burrowed or flew. No
footprints to or from. No discernable shape. No tuft
left to decipher or reverse engineer. Even the dog
loses interest. The heat, how it ripples now over
the tips of half-burnt leaves, stalks of unnamable
bushes whose branches are covered in finely toothed
thorns like dry tongues. There’s a striation, a knot, in the
music of summer. We are watching ourselves to sleep.
To make sense, narratively, of the world (aesthetically, politically, emotionally) we’ve both inherited and created seems, on some days, a fruitless exercise, whereas on other days it feels necessary. In “Climate Change,” I’m stuck in-between necessity and whimsy; I’m stuck attempting to tell it slant; I’m stuck screaming into the void. “No discernable shape,” the poem says, and I want, fully, to embrace that feeling and share it. Lately I’m consumed by the senseless, the disjunctive, the associative as ways to make amends, to see more clearly that which will not show itself. If the world is going to go to shit all around us, then the least we should do is acknowledge our part in it, and this poem is a record of me reckoning with my own failures, my own allure toward something more grand: That maybe we can fix ourselves enough to fix our planet, to out-reap what we’ve desperately sown. “There’s striation,” it says, “we are watching ourselves to sleep,” it warns, but for me, I want more than ever to be fully awake.
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