How to sum up how to save the Earth in a single poem
by Liza Wolff-Francis

The only thing I think to say is we can’t give up.
Maybe the answers would be better
sung from a mountaintop, or whispered
in a rainforest with the peel, teething
of a mango, its juice runny orange-yellow
down the chin, slick seed threads stick to teeth
and lips. Monkeys hover
near the fruit fallen on deep brown dirt
below scratch scrap strips of bark. Maybe
we just need to listen to the answers in plain speak
from melting glaciers, raging storms,
the missing rain. Scientists say
there are three things to do. Three is not a lot,
though they are three big things, but still,
we can’t give up.

First, they say, produce more food on less land
so large-scale agriculture doesn’t de-forest us,
pollute our water or drink it up,
doesn’t devastate habitats of bears, foxes,
wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, orangutans,
tigers, elephants, rhinos, the cheetah,
African wild dogs and hairy-nosed otters.
But also, not least, the monarch butterfly,
bees, moths, wasps, and flies. They say humans
would only survive a few months if all insects
were to go extinct. I think of all the ones
I have killed in my short lifetime. I will try
to do better. I can’t give up.
The way we farm, they say,
releases a lot of carbon. This
is mostly how we eat right now,
so even more so, we can’t give up.

Second, they say stop overfishing—
just stop it entirely. Only take
what fish populations can tolerate right now,
in this moment in time, so our oceans
are full of coral, of seaweed, of salmon,
of tuna, of swordfish, of octopus, of dolphins,
of seals, of whales, of turtles,
of my body and your body diving into cool clean
salt waters. Overfishing threatens food,
leaves ghost gear the weight of tens of thousands
of double decker buses underwater, net
upon net upon net lining the floors of our oceans.
Think of all the people who rely on seafood,
for livelihood, for nourishment.
For them alone, we can’t give up.

Third, they say, increase clean energy.
Shift world energy supplies
to solar, to hydrogen, to wind,
anything but fossil fuels. Reforest, they say,
capture carbon dioxide as if you were a child
with a golf course green net, waiting for magic.
Fossil fuels may seem like tradition, like identity,
like who we are comes from what we have known,
like life as we know it is threatened
at the disappearance of fossil fuels, but really,
life as we know it is disappearing
because of fossil fuels. We have used them
for so long, we trust them like brand loyalty,
but for the child I was, for the child I have,
for the child you have and the child you were,
for the children we know, and for the children
we don’t know, we can’t give up.

These three things are the main things.
They are three big things we need
people with big voices and power to change,
but we can make this better. If you love
being alive like I do, love the Earth, love
each sunset, each new moon, ocean water on toes,
wind over desert, river water on forehead,
changing colors of leaves, bears in the forest,
cardinals in snow, the caw of crows,
you also know, we can’t give up.

PAINTING: Jungle Songs by Jahar Dasgupta.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Sometimes when I look at the climate crisis I feel overwhelmed, but I also believe there are solutions. I believe as individuals we can do important small things to support a healthier planet and I also believe knowing what we can do as a world and what action our leaders need to take helps to make us stronger advocates for humanity, for the Earth, and for our future. I firmly believe we have to maintain hope and that even when we feel we might want to, we can’t give up.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Liza Wolff-Francis is a poet and writer with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College who served two terms as a member of the Albuquerque Poet Laureate Program’s Selection Committee and continues on the organizing committee. She was chosen to write in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 poetry challenge for the month of September 2020. Her writing has been widely anthologized and her work has most recently appeared in the magazine El Palacio: Art, History, and Culture of the Southwest, Steam Ticket, We’Moon, among others. She has a chapbook out called Language of Crossing (Swimming with Elephant Publications, 2015).