“Going Down”, a poem by Maxine Kumin

Fishing Village, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Christophe Meneboeuf,, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons

Fishing Village, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Christophe Meneboeuf,, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons

Going Down

They call it climigration, these experts on vast shoreline loss

and islands swept by rising seas.

So far it’s minimal. In Papua

New Guinea, a string of seven atolls

are awash. three thousand souls

are being relocated to a

famous island, Bougainville,

wrested from Japan in World War II.

The tundra that protects the Eskimo

village of Newtok from the Bering Sea

is gradually eroding as the glue

of permafrost beneath it thaws

and arctic water levels rise.

They’re going down and so

are all the rest of us—

Florida to Bangladesh

Malaysia to Manhattan

where lamplit Central Park will lurch

with Lady Liberty, her torch

aloft, Chinatown, Hell’s Kitchen,

Soho, Harlem, and the Bronx

into the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite outcries of purest angst

dikes won’t save the playing field

so blow a kiss to this drowned world.

The gods have spoken: yield.

Read more poems like “Going Down” in Maxine Kumin’s 2014 collection, And Short the Season.

About Maxine Kumin

My Response to “Going Down”…Don’t Read Until You Have Yours!

I live close to the Chesapeake Bay, where islands have been disappearing for decades. Of course, as someone who has nearly always lived near the water, I know that erosion is inevitable. The only way we can protect ourselves from it is not to live near the water. But we don’t need to help it along so much either!

As people, we are like nature. We are moving towards obliteration our entire lives. It’s something we must accept, and in a paradoxical way, also gives our lives meaning.

As I used to tell my International Baccalaureate students, who pass timed essay exams to receive their diplomas, anybody can do anything with unlimited time. Being able to get the job done, expeditiously, is the trick. Such is life.

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