BREATHE

San Mateo County Youth Toward a More Sustainable Future

There is a pattern we burn 

into the night sky, & it will not be of chemical 

but compassion for all that is light.

Last year I woke up and

the sky was tangerine, 

sick with smoke

because we live in a world where

things are valued more dead than alive

and where we value today so much

we don’t even think about tomorrow,

but in less than twelve years

we’ll be running out of tomorrows.

So tell me,

how do we redefine value?

Humans are warming the planet

Smoke days replace our parents’ snow days

Being told the children are the future

Uncertain if we have one in store

Look around you

Breathe if you can

It’s code red for humanity.

Hazy skylines

the redness of the map

Plumes of black smoke, billowing, 

mixing with lavender clouds and orange flame

Yellowed lawns in my neighborhood

The taste of burnt toast in my mouth

Parts of my community lost

As decades of damage, destruction, and hate

Come down like a meteor that never saw space.

We must be united to fight it

We must all take accountability

Reduce CO2 and methane emissions to zero.

We have caused this

We are the only ones who can fix this

We can have a sustainable future.

Sitting in my bedroom staring at the screen

Wondering if this is always what I’ll see

Longing for action, longing for change

Saving the world from climate change

I am learning, struggling, and exploring 

Right now I want to make a difference

To know I am safe

I want to live in a world with no pollution

With rainbows in the skies.

Curated by San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto. This poem is part of an ecopoetry project made possible by The Academy of American Poets with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Contributors: Cassandra Bousquet, Chloe Chou, Bellamy Cramer, Ronit Das, Arda Inegol, Samantha Ishikawa, Maya Kornyeyeva, Iris Li, Caroline Lim, Allen Mata, Hanna Docampo Pham, Emma Roginski , Marissa Teng, and Payton Zolck, with additional lines by National Youth Poet Laureate Alexandra Huynh.

Published in Nature & Culture (Copenhagen: Red Press Kulturhuset Islands Brygge & Københavns Kommune, 2021).