“They covered their heads . . . because of the stricken soil.”
Jeremiah 14: 3-4
You knew nothing
of spinning planets,
the ocean’s cyclical fevers,
meanders of the trade winds,
the oscillating weight of the atmosphere.
What you did see
was plain enough,
and ground-level grim—
day after day
a vacant blue dome,
pustules of cloud
on a windless horizon.
You saw a river silt up,
a lakebed crack like a plate.
You saw grape vines shrivel,
and wheat droop on the stalk.
Your heart broke with sobs
when a doe fled her nursling
and a donkey stretched his futile tongue
for a wisp of airborne wet.
As the land tossed in its fitful dream of water,
only the olive trees withstood,
and the snakes.
If today you could see, from the black heights of space,
rivers of smoke twisting in the stratosphere,
calving glaciers, bleached coral, corpses of sea turtles,
Canada’s fire-gutted floors,
storms the size of mountain ranges,
And if you said El Niño, hydrocarbons,
Kelvin waves, extinctions, atmospheric oceans—
words from a realm other than the poetics of prophecy,
your lament would be no less anguished.
We know too well
what we have done with the gift we were given,
and what we have failed to do.
The proof is clear, you’d say,
about our hunger and murderous rages.
What grieving god wouldn’t hold back the rains,
or unleash them, striking the soil from which
our food and flesh come?
About the Poem
Like most of us, I am very concerned about the growing climate crisis and the slow withdrawal from fossil fuels. This summer (2023), with El Nino in ascendance, the earth and its human and non-human inhabitants are suffering through catastrophic heat, fire, and floods. I wanted to write a jeremiad. And then I thought, why not address it to the legendary “inventor” of that literary form, the biblical prophet Jeremiah who had plenty to say about human folly?
About the Author
Maria Rouphail, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer Emerita from North Carolina State University, where she taught courses in World Literature and served as an academic adviser for the English major. She is the Poetry Editor of Main Street Rag. Her third poetry collection, “All the Way to China,” was a finalist in both the University of Wisconsin Brittingham Poetry and the Blue Light Press competitions. Her earlier collections are “Apertures” and “Second Skin.” In 2022, Rouphail won the NCPS Poet Laureate competition. In 2023, she was awarded in both the Randall Jarrell and the Prime Magazines contests.