For our series “A Poem a Day,” we are honored to publish a sequence of poems from the editor of our climate change anthology, So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, Greg Delanty. About his upcoming poetry collection No More Time (due from LSU Press next August/September) where this sequence is taken from:
No More Time as a whole, is showing, at the start of the 21st century, how we are all connected in so many ways. The sequence ‘The Field Guide to People’ is arranged alphabetically and is a kind of integrated earthly heaven (thriving flora and fauna), purgatory (declining flora and fauna) and hell (extinct flora and fauna). The decline of the creatures and plants of the latter two is due in every case mainly to humans. The form of the poems in this sequence is the terza rimasonnet, both poems of the underworld and love poems to the natural world, connecting the past with the present in form and content. Since one of the greatest poems to portray humans in the Christian world is Dante’s underworld, Delanty has created a representative underworld for plants and creatures, rectifying the general centuries-old western attitude that humans are not apart, but part of the environment.
As a chimp, usually the adult male,
approaches and the roar of the
water booms louder, you see him,
speed up. His demeanor starts to
alter, hair bristling. Arriving at the
he stands, sways from one foot to the other,
bows, genuflects. Answering some call,
he dips his hand as if in holy water, splashes
himself along the tassel border of the silk
climbs the bell ropes of draping vines,
lashes his body to several, takes flight
over the deafening water as it crashes.
He swings like a thurible above that veil of
white; the spray is the incense of the
monkey’s water rite.
Sometimes you see something so
dreadful that the mind snaps a shot
or shoots a video of the scenario,
lasers it into your retina on the spot,
impaled in you for as long as you live:
a teacher thrashing a pupil — a crying tot —
or the elephant Dan and I saw given a
sedative so she could rest, sleep, that time
in Dublin Zoo. The aged female was
trapped in a repetitive
back and forth on her haunches,
unable to stop herself, a tormented
beast of Orcus.
Her attendant explained, feeding her bamboo,
“Twas her one way to move, trapped in the van of a circus
so long. Rescuing her was our onus and bittersweet bonus.”
I feel like a student in my Environment
101, crushed by daily news: creatures
going or gone, the changing climate, the
planet under the gun.
In teacher mode I tell them: “For yourselves you
press on, your own wellbeing. You’re entitled to be
Action makes life fun. Good news: the Café Marron
and sage grouse are saved”. I say nothing of the scurfpea,
Orbexilum stipulatum? Its modest flower
blending with white-bearded cascades. A
or more and not a single sighting along the
river at Rock Island. It relied too much on
the bison. You know how one thing depends
with the jowled ones diminished, so went this
‘un; finally condemned with the building of US
In January 2000, the Pyrenean ibex (Spanish common name ‘bucardo’)
became extinct. Scientists cloned DNA from a last female.
In the end, no cliff or impossible
crag could save them from
plantation or gun. Their heads hang
on walls. Hunters brag.
Many were taken down for sheer fun.
The king pucks — their antler plumes
rising magisterially — plugged one by none.
Gone the clash of horn scimitars,
grooms battling to mate, the
bucardo of lore.
White-coated gods in lab rooms
summoned one back from the dark shore
of the underworld. They should have
known from the ancient myths what was
She returned after seven minutes, lone
clone, relieved to be back among the herds
of her own.
Imagine a place, a zone, an
underworld which includes more
than our own kind:
the green and moving ones: ferns with curled
violin necks, gloaming players who
grind their wings together. And listen,
the music, the strain of this bird
lingers in the wind.
What flute-like notes, what warbling, what
a lick of trills and whistles. Can you hear
Heard melodies are sometimes sweeter. A trick
of the breeze, zephyr? Things went
wrong with land clearing. Hurricane
season intensified, uprooted trees, and
mosquitoes multiplied in rain-storm
stagnation. The song: a figment of my
Northern Gastric Frog
This creature’s extinction is attributable to the human introduction
of pathogenic fungi into their native range.
This one was a bit of an artist,
especially the female, so oddly
At home in backwater rocky
cascades and riffles. Hard to
find, to spot even when
Its stone-hued skin and sepia behind
blending in. After the female
laid eggs, in vitro fertilized by her
groom, she swallowed them whole,
turned her stomach into a burgeoning
womb. Six weeks later she gave birth
and out of her own mouth. No more room
for lungs, she breathed through her own skin,
spewed up her mites, each wearing a clown-
Something to behold, how this crop
succeeds in such diverse moraine. Best
of all, see row after row descend
gradually from the gods
down mountainsides to the valleys
below, tiers of a great amphitheater,
their heads craning to watch the show:
the traffic, rickshaws, the general
theater of our priceless world. On the
slow train to Kandy I was a passing
watched locals kneeling to the god of
rain, lay offerings to the assisting
oxen and ant, petition the god of rice
for healthy grain.
I wanted to join them, genuflect, pray, chant
praise to the plant that’s half the world’s
This chimeric beast, part zebra, part donkey,
—its name the phantom sound
of its supposed call—enjoyed the society
of ostrich and gnu, foraged remote grassland.
So comically mythical: the striped head
a kind of convict’s shirt, each band
fading until mid-body it bled
into a rufus rear, and on to a white tail.
(the last sad male to be found was bred
with a flummoxed horse, producing a female
striped in reverse, from waist to rear).
It’s as if a circus clown ran out of a final pail
of white paint. The only photo’d quagga, a mare,
stares back from behind bars with an accusing glare.
The corpse flower, a flower straight out of hell
on earth, not one to give your wife or mother
come Valentine’s Day, or wear on your lapel.
Though the sight of this particular
flower’s measled, fleshy-skinned,
monstrous petal wouldn’t help you
any, what overpowers
is the stench of rotting flesh and organs:
Chanel de Cadaver, Bouquet Putrid,
Essence de Carcass, Versense Pew, Allure Impossible,
luring every bug in the vicinity to the
reek, unable to resist entering the
of this hotty, and presto, another sprouts in a week.
Meanwhile, the forests of Sumatra and
Borneo are being cleared. Ergo the corpse
Saint Helena’s Olive
Far-fetched that plants feel pain,
but there’s evidence, the experts
say they can learn, process and
that they’ve intelligence in some
way. This one’s had it: St.
As soon as people settled to stay,
spread, this plant gave up the will to survive.
Natural. But natural also that planters cut
all before them, needing somewhere to live,
to settle themselves. Too late
by the time anybody got it together,
grappled to keep the native alive, bust a
The seeds of this tree refused to flower,
their act of civil disobedience, flower
Tarantula Hawk Wasp
Give us a break, man, you with your
inventory of whales crooning to one
the society of bees, the scratched history
of bears, elephants mourning a dead
mother, the varying duet of the
the Saint Helena olives’ flower power.
You elect them denizens of a kind of
Paradiso. But consider the likes of a
the Tarantula Hawk, straight out of the Inferno.
This one would make Hannibal Lecter gasp.
The wasp’s sting turns the tarantula into a
zombie, drugs and drags the spider off in its
lays an egg in the spider’s belly; the larva
methodically eats the host alive; more nature’s
norm than oddity.
You never saw anything like this
bird, black from coif to claw, with
looks to kill
(though ungainly in flight). But, what’s absurd
isn’t so much the unusual
hairstyle, which is less like a
man’s umbrella than an Elvis
quiff, driving many a girl
out of her tree, screeching for her fella,
nor is it his Elvis song, the testosterone
bass crooning longingly for his Priscilla.
But the instrument, and not just that, but the
place it arises from, his throat, a back-to-f
that opens into a feather duster when he plays
his well-endowed come-on, larger in the male,
a kind of didgeridoo, moaning, enticing the female.
The Voilá Grouse
“I’m pleased that we collectively continue to make great progress
on addressing threats to this bird, conserving the sagebrush habitat
and providing a path forward for sustainable economic development.”
—US Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, Sep 21st, 2016
You should see their fancy
costumes: white ruffs, spectacular
fanned tails. And o-la-la, watch the
strut their stuff, the puffed-up lek males
performing their version of a pole dance,
tucking in their bills, vying for the
eyeing up their prospects, their chance
of a future. The future has some hope
now, thanks to Secretary Jewell taking
The grouse is saved, the end of a protracted
row. The whole sage-swaying sea is singing
Hallelujah, along with the elk, pronghorn,
mule deer, sparrow.
Good news for all sheltered under this
umbrella, been blown inside out. Folks
spoke up and voilà!
The old gods are defunct, but not the old
necessity to give thanks. This god spread
from the Levant forgotten religions ago,
He is goodness incarnate, the Midas
plant without the Midas curse, t
urning a field
into plains of swaying gold. He is our constant
from dawn to dawn, strength
concealed within burnished stalks
of energy, grounded goodness
This great shape-changer: the deity
of cereal, pasta, bread, the English
taco has more lives than Buddha. We
become him, where he grows we
grow, rising each morning,
Surely there are others in your life who
make you feel worthwhile, are a safe
haven. I am lucky enough to have a
And now this other, a befriending
dolphin I swam out deep again to
meet. I can’t tell
even myself what I felt when I first saw the fin
slice through the surface, the swell,
then to see this undine, stock-still at my feet.
We looked each other in the eyes for well
over ten seconds (nay, millennia). Such a
sweet, kind gaze. I wonder what he made
in only my pelt and goggles. What a treat
to be allowed kiss his grinning forehead before he
undulated back across Dingle Bay, the channel’s
is the divining stick, wishbone, question
why one y rather than another why:
the yak, the y tree, the yellow-eyed penguin
or the myriad y insects who crawl
and fly we know nothing of, nor will
ever know? The links break from
alpha, beyond why.
You mention the Yaque chub, a
minnow, or Yaque catfish sporting
Chinese whiskers, both Yaques
depending on the slow flow
of Yaque River. According to Surem elders
–the last to speak Yaque, Yoeme Niki,
(And where do languages go when they die, others
on the brink?)– the Surem’s goddess, Yumululi,
speaks for The Great Tree, divines our future
The descriptions of the leopard and its habits are characterized by the widespread notion that wavyale (witches) sent them to harm villagers and were thus killed on sight. After the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 there was a leopard-cleansing campaign which sealed the leopard’s extinction.
Kill Evil incatinate. Kill kill kill
the Zanzibar Leopard, this island devil,
this vampire vermin, obeying witch-will,
dispatched by the wavyale to bedevil
villages. You know the old strategy:
demonize and the demonizer will revel
in playing God, the paw of the Almighty.
This leopard survived since the ice age,
slowly shrunk itself into dwarf-cat royalty,
even changed its spots, but couldn’t manage
to outwit human categorizing. Yes, it is daft,
but this cat’s hardly likely to be found in cage
or ruling the night-forest now. When statecraft
bands with religion there’s no better witchcraft.
There’s something off about talk of the land
as a person. It’s more a moody personality
that you insecurely sense, project,
via the osmosis of yourself, your
to shape change, the abracadabra
matching outside to within. Take Zayante,
home of the slender gilia, Bonny Doon mazanita,
coast-horned lizard, band-winged grasshopper,
Ben Lomond spine flower, June beetle, ponderosa,
everlasting, kangaroo rat, all going without a
Folks’ needs, comforts, fears up the ante.
The development night by day grows grimmer.
Which ciao —hi or bye– will it be on Planet
Enough Gregorian cant. We are done. Adelante.