by Ian McDonald
The great forests of the world are burning down;
far away in Amazon they burn,
far beyond our eyes the trees are cut
and cleared and heaped and fired.
Ashes fill the rivers for miles and miles;
the rivers are stained with the blood of mighty trees.
Great rivers are brothers of great forests
and immense clouds shadowing the rose-lit waters
are cousins of this tribe of the earth-gods.
Under the ancient watch of the stars
all should be secure and beautiful forever,
dwarfing man, generation after generation after generation,
inspiring man, feeding him with dreams and strength.
But over there it is not so; man is giant
and the forest dwindles; it will soon be nothing –
shrubs sprouting untidily in scorched black earth.
The sun will burn the earth, before now shadowed
for a hundred thousand years, dark and dripping,
hiding jewelled insects and thick-veined plants,
blue-black orchids with white hearts, red macaws,
the green lace of ferns, gold butterflies, opal snakes.
Everything shrivels and dust begins to blow;
it is as if acid was poured on the silken land.
It is far from here now, but it is coming nearer.
Those who love forests also are cut down.
This month, this year, we may not suffer;
the brutal way things are, it will come.
Already the cloud patterns are different each year.
The winds blow from new directions,
the rain comes earlier, beats down harder,
or it is dry when the pastures thirst.
In this dark, overarching Essequibo forest,
I walk near the shining river on the green paths
cool and green as melons laid in running streams.
I cannot imagine all the forests going down,
the great black hogs not snouting for the pulp of fruit,
all this beauty and power and shining life gone.
But in far, once emerald, Amazon the forest dies
by fire, fiercer than bright axes.
The roar of the wind in trees is sweet,
reassuring; the heavens stretch far and bright
above the loneliness of mist-shrouded forest trails,
and there is such a feel of softness in the evening air.
Can it be that all of this will go, leaving the clean-boned land?
I wonder if my children’s children, come this way,
will see the great forest spread green and tall and far
as it spreads now far and green for me.
Is it my imagination that the days are furnace-hot,
the sun-parrots late or not come at all this year?
Ian McDonald is a Guyanese poet and writer of fiction (such as Caribbean classic The Hummingbird Tree) with Antiguan roots. This timely and urgent poem is reprinted here with his permission.