Our Children Will Reproach Us

Antarctic ice shelves in danger

Antarctic ice shelves in danger

Wednesday

 For people with children and grandchildren, the latest predictions about rapidly melting Antarctic ice make climate change real in a whole new way. Suddenly people we know and love could well be alive when, according to a new study, ocean levels will have risen by five or six feet. Or they will do so if we cannot keep atmospheric temperatures below a 2 °C increase.

Rising ocean levels, of course, will unleash holy havoc upon coastal populations around the world. For instance, Miami will disappear. And that’s in addition to the projected increase in extreme weather events.

.Lucille Clifton has a poem that imagines how the next generation, along with their own children and grandchildren, will hold us accountable.. To be sure, Clifton may have nuclear Armageddon in mind rather than another civilization-ending event. The poem is titled “the last day.” Nevertheless, with the GOP resisting and preparing to turn back any progress on limiting greenhouse gases, we can imagine offering up weak defenses as “our kind” reproach us with reproachful eyes.

Clifton’s poem echoes “The Hollow Men” with its drama of the eyes. In Eliot’s poem, however, it is those who have gone before who reproach us, not those who come after:

Those who have crossed
    With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
    Remember us–if at all–not as lost
    Violent souls, but only
    As the hollow men
    The stuffed men.

Between Eliot and Clifton, we get accused from both directions. Here’s the poem:

the last day

By Lucille Clifton

we will find ourselves surrounded
by our kind   all of them now
wearing the eyes they had
only imagined possible
and they will reproach us
with those eyes
in a language more actual
than speech
asking why we allowed this
to happen   asking why
for the love of God
we did this to ourselves
and we will answer
in our feeble voices   because
because   because

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