the sixth extinction by Deepti Kamma

the sixth extinction by Deepti Kamma

Deepti Kamma

the sixth extinction


the beginning of the end.


i sat down one evening

to write a list—


a list i hoped would be short

and simple and quick—

list of a few names

and a few places—

no more

no more


but the list went on and on,


the more i searched

the more it grew

the more frantic i became

as reality came crashing through the door

and made itself home

in the crevices of my thoughts


i wrote and i wrote

as the pen ran out of ink

and the paper bled with tears


i wrote until i could write no more

no more

no more


it was a list veiled in black

and echoing with silent screams


it was a list of the dying

and its length was too long


most people write bucket lists

of things they want to do,

places they want to see,

memories they want to make

before they take their final breath—


but i,

i wrote a list of beings

i want to see before they vanish

it’s different, you see


in this list,

they are the ones that are dying,

not i.


one. lonely.


we all feel alone sometimes


more than others


and sometimes

we renounce our ecological nature

that writ us to be social beings


and we make ourselves


in a sea of seven billion


but do we know the meaning

of true loneliness?


perhaps we should ask

the Achatinella apexfulva snail

or the Panamanian golden frogs


perhaps we should have

asked Lonesome George,

or Benjamin the

Tasmanian tiger



what do we know of being an


the last individual on the records

before your species is marked

with a sigh and a thin red line


we know nothing

of the true

meaning of




two. it takes two.


we have this concept of love

as something that cannot be defined


love, ah love, we say

a whisper in your ear, a yell of joy

it’s sunshine, it’s rain, it’s the blue sky and the clouds

it’s everything in a rush

it’s the hush of quiet


but what is it really?

other than a chain of

biochemical and neural

pathways in your brain

and your hormones—

a complex system built

to satiate the evolutionary drive

to procreate


our romantic sensibilities

prevent us from

reducing love

to such an artificial context


but when the species we have decimated

to such an extent

that there are


only two



we have no choice

and gone are our


of love and mating


replaced with the cold

touch of artificial reproduction

and the warm prayers

and hopes

of those who care.


three. three’s a crowd?


it keeps me up at night


thought of three

gentle behemoths,

wrinkled skin

doe-eyed composure

the last of the

northern white rhinos


surrounded by 24-hour

constant vigilance and

an armed guard

who work to keep

these animals from

joining that list

of too many


and it strikes me

as a tragic dichotomy—

the thought of these creatures

protected by the species

that had caused them

the greatest harms


and what a terrible role

we play in

the natural world



the murderers and the healers

the sinners and the saints


four. jaws.


the scariest movie i’ve seen

is jaws

the story of a monstrous shark

hungry for blood off the coast

of New England—


oh god


i refused to go to the beach

the summer i had first seen it, i would play

safely in the grass by the pool


years later,

i came across a pair of dead

baby sharks

swept ashore

tiny little creatures

with fins the size of my fingers

alone, unmoving

cradled by the soft lapping

of the tide

and all i could feel was a sudden rush

of love and grief


that night i watched jawsagain

with this newfound perspective

and dreamt

of fins gracefully gliding through

the surface of waves


and the other day

i learnt that


¼ of all sharks and rays

are currently threatened

with death and extinction


and it’s clear that the real villains

in the cinema of reality

is us


it’s the fish markets

we rely on to feed our populations

it’s the ships and boats

we use to transport all our wants


and we are ruining our waters

with waste and pollution

and we are draining

our oceans of all beauty and life





at a time


and yet

we still have the audacity

to see sharks

as the villains of the seas


five. the past.


sometimes i lay on the

ground outside

and think of everything

the world beneath my fingertips

has gone through


the first spark of life

to the first multicellular organism

to the phenomenon of autotrophy

the survival of microbes

the cambrian explosion

to the colonization of land

ancient jellyfish

and ancestral chordata

and insects and dinosaurs

and small mammals

the immense quantity and diversity

of sheer life throughout

the history of our planet


each distinct era marked

with death

and destruction—

a fundamental shift

in the natural order—

a time of ruination

and resurgence


a mother’s chastise

that even the giants

can fall

a mother’s protection

for the smaller lives

that deserve a chance


i think about all these things

and i stretch my fingertips

across the planet

and i sink my body

into the ground

and seek

the depth of struggle

the depth of survival

of those long dead.


six. now.


it is clear

what is happening

around us,

around the world

if only we can

open our eyes

and watch

as species once innumerable

are reduced

to numbers we can count

on a single hand


if only we could all

follow that list of grief

i made that one evening

and travel to kenya, belize, australia

china, france, malaysia and beyond

and just look at all the

life we are draining

look at each individual

of each species

in the eyes



it is clear

we are the asteroid

we are the cataclysmic change

of the atmosphere and climate

we are the apocalypse

that have led so many before us

to untimely deaths

and in the face of

despair and


i ask myself

standing alone

staring at the bathroom mirror

            what will you do?

and i ask strangers i pass

on the way to our 8AM classes

            what will you do?

and i ask you—my lovely reader,

thank you reading this, but

            what will you do?


the beginning of the end.


weariness takes ahold

in the creaks of my bones

and the timbre of my voice

the word “tired” flows with my blood

and weighs down in my heart.


i cannot go on.


but i must.


i must write, i must read

i must listen, i must speak.


for all the flora and fauna

their future and ours


i must.


and so i will.

Deepti Kamma is a senior at UMass Amherst juggling a double major of Biology and Environmental Science, her passions for ecological conservation and policy-making, and her love for the written word. You might find her walking through the woods or scribbling in her notebook on a hilltop. 

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