Never Forget by Akhila Bandlora

Last week Our Daily Planet had a chance to meet some of the remarkable young activists of Sea Youth Rise Up as they gathered in Washington D.C. to bring awareness to ocean conservation issues impacting both their local communities and communities around the globe. Akhila Bandlora, one of the 2019 delegates, wrote the following poem to present during her trip to Washington and we thought it captured so poignantly the essence of the youth environmental movement that our world is currently witnessing. We hope you’re moved by her words as much as we were.

 

never forget

i.
the girl with sea foam fingers writes letters
on napkins left on beaches like loose change,
words stumbling down staircases of five-seven-five haikus:
i want an ocean,
the one mama whispers of,
when she eats, sleeps, prays.
she ties them to the webbed foot of a seagull, and sends it off to the governor:
“we are the tide and we are coming.”
he laughs and the girl watches him corrode:
shoo the seagull, lull it to sleep with plastic wrappers and bottles, throw the napkins away to land up exactly where the girl found it, and dips his pen into the seagull’s carcass to sign a bill
for a factory to dump their industrial waste into the ocean
— the ocean, a man made trashcan.

But, The girl’s eyes are seismic; the world shifts.

ii.
It’s 1972,
the year oysters pearl, fish jump, and crabs claw;
the girl trades her haikus for ballads, her flat chest
for fruit cup breasts, their apathy for her unrest
the sailors; they call her a woman.
she gargles the sea in her mouth to remember why she’s fighting,
pulls trash left on beaches and from washed up animal carnage,
dumps it on the governor’s desk–
“the tide is here; we are here.”–
chants reduce, reuse, and recycle outside the homes of oil-guzzling men,
she leaks into classrooms, and salt water ferments the walls,
teaches her children how to protect;
the world watches her,
until its eyes cataract,
teeth chip,
lips parch,
and ears burst.
And finally, it listens–
births the Marine Mammal Protection Act,
MPRSA, the ocean dumping act,
holds the UN Convention on the law of the sea–
All promises to defend.
she smiles,
whistles to the whoosh of the waves,
and shows her children how to protest;
The fight is far from over.

 

iii.
It’s 2019,
where climate change is an alternative fact,
the ocean an afterthought instead of a forethought;
but it’s still her first thought.
her bones are soft like coral,
hair long like coast and gray like gravel,
voice throaty as a frog’s;
her battle ending,
the war still raging.
her children, we revolt
when our president pulls out of the Paris Agreement,
elects a denialist to run the EPA,
cuts its budget by thirty percent,
we community we young people we fight
we, together, grab conch shells and march on,–
“The seas are rising and so are we!–
the woman braids kelp through her hair,
washes her body with the sea,
tells us to never forget,
and we say we never will.

 

Akhila Bandlora, a rising senior, is an environmental activist from Phoenix, Arizona. In 2018, Akhila won fromthebowseat’s gold award for poetry, and officially began her environmental activism. Her work includes helping organize Arizona’s Youth Climate Strike, serving as a Creative Writing Finalist for the Genius Olympiad, and joining Earthecho International’s Ambassadorship Program. Additionally, Akhila’s delved deeper into environmental justice, realizing how the pursuit of environmental rights is often synonymous with social and racial justice.

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