LLAPALLAPANI, Bolivia — The water receded and the fish died. They surfaced by the tens of thousands, belly-up, and the stench drifted in the air for weeks. The birds that had fed on the fish had little choice but to abandon Lake Poopó, once Bolivia’s second-largest but now just a dry, salty expanse. Many of the Uru-Murato people, who had lived off its waters for generations, left as well, joining a new global march of refugees fleeing not war or persecution, but climate change. “The lake was our mother and our father,” said Adrián Quispe, one of five brothers who were working as fishermen and raising families here in Llapallapani. “Without this lake, where do we go?” —“Climate Change Claims a Lake, and an Identity,” The New York Times, July 7, 2016
from the worm the lived loam.
On dust farms, on salt flats,
on what used to be the shore
of all that made a here of there,
leave the wingspread, the blindcurve,
leave one liftless, one unburrowed.
“I am living in someone else’s home.”
Drain all that was from all that is,
Forget to float.
The past is this shrunken husk of a boat,
a souvenir woven from straw,
an orphan for sale in the marketplace.
The future’s this salt we grind and gather.
“The lake was our mother and our father.”
Take all the waters taught of tilt,
take lilt, take lap and swell and spill.
Take from the wave all that wets—
then time will harden as it crests,
our season stilled.
We could not wake one small swift fish from its stench,
or raise one bright flamingo feather from its fossil.
“We threw out our nets, there was nothing for us.”
R. Nemo Hill is the author, in collaboration with painter Jeanne Hedstrom, of an illustrated novel, Pilgrim’s Feather (Quantuck Lane Press, 2002); a poem based upon a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, The Strange Music of Erich Zann (Hippocampus Press, 2004); a chapbook, Prolegomena To An Essay On Satire (Modern Metrics, 2006); and two collections of poems, When Men Bow Down (Dos Madres Press, 2012 ) and In No Man’s Ear (Dos Madres, 2016). He is editor & publisher of Exot Books.