April is National Poetry Month, and we’re celebrating by featuring examples of “civic” poetry from new and familiar voices. Throughout the month we’ll be discussing what it means to be civic through the art of words. Join us on Twitter at #civicpoetry.
The Man Who Gave Birth to a Panda
He had to have it, his mother told him. How could he not, with so few left in the world? He felt heaviest at night with the miracle of it. He was a vessel now. A receptacle for a threatened being. What if he rose too fast and killed it? Or maybe his stillness would do it, too much sitting around, stunned and hungry. And what if the bear emerged alive and another formed in its place, would he have to have that one, too, and another one after that?
He dreamed of the panda’s tiny eyes opening inside him, the doctor’s wide incision, a whirring pain, and then the furry thing emerging, the bear turning to him as to a stranger and whether that would be it—his bit part in the history of the future.
From the poet
I wrote this poem after reading a list of animals likely to become extinct in our lifetime. Many of the animals on the list were the animals one finds printed on children’s pajamas and a number of questions started to churn in my mind about reproduction and how differently we might view the threatened species who share our planet if a few men found themselves gestating, say, a tiny panda, or a lemur. If a poem takes on a public issue in too obvious or heavy-handed a way, it risks predictability and righteousness. I couldn’t stop thinking about the species facing extinction I kept facing on my children’s pajamas and creating a subversive fantasy of a poem pushed me to think beyond the obvious ways to address our collective responsibility to other species stuck on this planet with us.
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This project was co-curated by the journalism nonprofit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and its Puffin Story Innovation Fund.