The Saturday Poem: On the Fifth Day

By Jane Hirshfield, for the March for Science, on Earth Day 2017

Climate change: President Trump signs an executive order intended to roll back most of President Obama’s climate-change legacy. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/New York Times

Climate change: President Trump signs an executive order intended to roll back most of President Obama’s climate-change legacy. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/New York Times

 

On the fifth day
the scientists who studied the rivers
were forbidden to speak
or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air
were told not to speak of the air,
and the ones who worked for the farmers
were silenced,
and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands,
began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak
and were taken away.
The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers
that spoke of the rivers,
and only the wind that spoke of its bees,

while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence,
and the rivers kept speaking,
of rivers, of boulders and air.

In gravity, tongueless,
the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
code writers, machinists, accountants,
lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day,
of silence.

This poem was read on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as part of the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2017. Jane Hirshfield wrote it on January 25th, the fifth day of Donald Trump’s presidency, when information on climate change was removed from the White House website and scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, department of agriculture and other federal agencies were ordered to release no further research information without permission. Scientists at Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, began unofficially tweeting factual information that day, and scientists at many governmental agencies and universities began copying research files on to back-up servers.

Jane Hirshfield’s most recent collection is The Beauty (Bloodaxe). On the Fifth Day first appeared in the Washington Post