First They Came …

ghost ships


First They Came …
after Martin Niemöller

First, the rains came hard as heart attacks:
tributaries, rivers swollen;
floodplains at sea for months.
And I did nothing because I
did not live on a floodplain.
But I saw the refugees on television,
cradling confused dogs in dinghies,
paddling for higher ground,
leaving behind them homes
haunted by ghost flotillas of tins
and saucepans adrift
on a brown tide in flooded kitchens.

Then, the hurricanes came so fast
they unspun meaning from their names,
and we had to coin new words
for storms that uprooted whole towns
from their east coast zip codes
like so many potato drills.
And I did nothing because I
did not live on America’s eastern seaboard.
But I marvelled at YouTube shorts
of houses imploding like punctured lungs.

When drought came to the Mediterranean
it came so often that farmers walked away
from their fields, were found hanging
from rafters in barns even the rats
had abandoned, or were swept
into shanties like sirocco-blown dust
into the pithcraters of tangerines.
And I did nothing because I
did not live in southern Italy,
but I cursed the distended price
of olives and chianti.

Rainforest became savannah;
I carved my imported rib-eye.
Water stress headached through Africa;
I hosed down my Range Rover.

But when the great ice-sheets calved,
and the seas rose like loaves –
those sundry states of emergency,
the skyrocketing price of land,
the peoples in diaspora,
the conflict and the chaos,
the everyone-for-himself –
I did nothing because it was too late.

They are coming for me
in a frigate strewn with bones
hoving into view
from my penthouse balcony.
And there is no-one left to object.

David Briggs
Montage: Claire Palmer






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