In Deep Waters
Lost at sea in a world gone stormbroken hugging at last to leeward of an unknown island I consult the map: Rawaki, Mckean, Enderbury, Nikumaroro, Manra, Birnie, Kanton & Orona— The Phoenix Islands of Kiribati largest & deepest World Heritage site on earth Ah, well, if myth is to be believed (and who would dare gainsay so true a myth so sanctified in the bones destined to decay, to crumble into ash) the Phoenix rose and rises still from the detritus of her own demise O burning bird! O endless resurrection! You feed us on eternal promise of regeneration! But I give way to inexorable doubts and think how quenchable your flame must be— a group of islands in the Mid-Pacific set as jewels in the swallowing sea The questions come to roost: What bulwark will do? Where will they go as climate migrants? Yet now the taste of pepper burns my tongue even as blue ink bleeds to crimson waters puddles on the page then bursts in tongues of flame
The science inspiring the piece:
I owe the inspiration for this poem to Peggy Dobreer, who, at the Rapp Saloon Friday evening reading in Santa Monica, CA, curated by Elena Secota, brought out a collection of old maps and gave us 15 minutes to pick a site and create a poem. Of course, I had to pick the Phoenix Islands, and, of course, I had to explore a bit further.
In 2006, Republic of Kiribati established one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, then doubled it in 2008, making it the largest & deepest World Heritage site on earth. As the Kiribatis say, “The promise of the Phoenix Islands is the promise of Paradise Found and Paradise Protected.”
In 2009 the president of the island nation began to draft escape plans, citing sea level rise from Climate Crisis. At COP 27 in 2022, he appealed for aid in building resilience against rising ocean levels. “We must be held accountable. Action begins here and now before it is too late.”
His people would prefer to save their island home rather than abandon it.
Listen to Gregory read the poem: