Poem-a-Day - "Do/Do Not" by Nisha Atalie

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May 7, 2022 

Do/Do Not

Nisha Atalie

I sniff the blooming tiger lily,
two tongues sprung open
from one mouth.

I poison the river unintentionally.
I walk on the designated paths.

I splice the mountain, its body and mouth gaping.
I collect rainwater in a wheelbarrow.

I line the whale’s belly with gifts until
they rupture its stomach.
I water the strawberries.

Again I fill my gas tank with dead things,
generations spun together until shiny.
I feed the ducks fresh lettuce.

I maneuver the dead squirrel
on the road, mark the moment
when creature becomes meat.

I accept that my love is a
poisonous flower, routinely fatal.

I calculate the force of
loving in each glittering death.

All day on this land, in the
deep forest, the electric greens and
still-wet mud writhe with life.

The pond gurgles and whispers.
Everyone here knows to shudder
when they see me coming.

The mangos arrive unbruised
at the grocery store.
The wolves should start running.

Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Atalie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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About the Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize

Nisha Atalie’s “Do/Do Not” is the third-place winner of the 2022 Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize. Established in 2019 with generous support from Treehouse Investments, the prize is given to honor exceptional poems that help make real for readers the gravity of the vulnerable state of our environment at present. Beginning with the Saturday after Earth Day, Poem-a-Day will feature this year’s three winners on consecutive weekends. 

“‘Again I fill my gas tank with dead things...’ This poem speaks to those of us who are routinely responsible for the climate crisis, meaning our daily decisions contribute to environmental collapse. The poet’s gift is demonstrating how what we experience as ease and convenience, for example, the fact that ‘The mangos arrive unbruised / at the grocery store,’ is evidence of a catastrophe. This poet opens up a possibility with each stanza: if our daily investments in a system that harms the planet can become strange to us again, maybe we can find another way. Our hope is that our actions in support of environmental accountability and stewardship will become as persistent, daily, and repeatable as the actions we take for granted right now.”
Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali & Alexis Pauline Gumbs

“I wrote ‘Do/Do Not’ as a part of grappling with the powerlessness I often feel at living in a time of devastation and loss. No matter how much we change our individual behaviors, we remain stuck and embedded in a system that treats both human and nonhuman life as disposable. While I believe a world built on the mutual flourishing of all living beings is possible, it seems distant in everyday life, where care and protection are too often intertwined with exploitation and domination. In these conditions, the impulse to love and nourish is both insufficient and absolutely necessary.”
Nisha Atalie

Nisha Atalie is a poet of South Asian and European descent. The winner of the Eileen Lannan Poetry Prize, she is an incoming doctoral student in literary studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in Chicago, on occupied Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi land.

“Wildflower” by Stanley Plumly
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“Wasteland: on the California Wildfires” by Forrest Gander
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Thanks to Brandy Nālani McDougall, author of The Salt-Wind: Ka Makani Pa‘Akai (Kuleana ‘Oiwi Press, 2008), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Listen to a Q&A about McDougall’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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