by James Penha

I used to untangle the city vines strangling my mind
on a ship across the Strait to the jungles of Sumatra
where families of howling gibbons leaped from trees
to trees startling hornbills picking plump figs as I hoped
for the nest of orangutans, the trumpet of an elephant,
the roar of a tiger. Hard to hear now; hard to see now
that the ancient trees have burned to make room
for profitable plantations of oil palms that suck rivers,
lakes and my soul to dust for us to graze grocery aisles.

PHOTO: Orangutan in the Sumatran rainforest (March 27, 2016). Photo by Visions of Domino.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Sumatra is one of the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia. Borneo and Sumatra are the only places on Earth where tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants live together. In the last 35 years, Sumatra  has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest. Critically endangered species include the Sumatran ground cuckoo, the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant, the Sumatran rhinoceros, and the Sumatran orangutan. Deforestation on the island has also resulted in serious seasonal smoke haze over neighboring countries, such as the 2013 Southeast Asian haze which caused considerable tensions between Indonesia and affected countries Malaysia and Singapore.


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: What can we do to heal the jungles? Look for the RSPO label to ensure we purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil. This label provides confidence that the palm oil was produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Find him on Twitter @JamesPenha.