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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.

'Phoenix Islands Protected Area' - UNESCO
'Meaningful Action To Address Climate Crisis Begins Now, Kiribati To COP27' - SPREP

Listen to Gregory read the poem: