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,

and

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

            some

more than others

 

and sometimes

we renounce our ecological nature

that writ us to be social beings

 

and we make ourselves

islands

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

 

because

what do we know of being an

endling—

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

 

one

 

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

 

left,

we have no choice

and gone are our

notions

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

the

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

as

 

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

because

and we are ruining our waters

with waste and pollution

and we are draining

our oceans of all beauty and life

 

one

apathetic

trawl

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

 

because

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

hopelessness,

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. 

"Middlesex Fells" by Traverse Day Robinette

"Middlesex Fells" by Traverse Day Robinette

Intergenerational Survival

Intergenerational Survival