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On the Fifth Day — A Poem by Jane Hirshfield

Written by Jane Hirshfield
September 18, 2019

On the Fifth Day

  1. On the fifth day
  2. the scientists who studied the rivers
  3. were forbidden to speak
  4. or to study the rivers.
  5. The scientists who studied the air
  6. were told not to speak of the air,
  7. and the ones who worked for the farmers
  8. were silenced,
  9. and the ones who worked for the bees.
  10. Someone, deep in the Badlands,
  11. began posting facts.
  12. The facts were told not to speak
  13. and were taken away.
  14. The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.
  15. Now it was only the rivers
  16. that spoke of the rivers,
  17. and only the wind that spoke of its bees,
  18. while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees
  19. continued to move toward their fruit.
  20. The silence spoke loudly of silence,
  21. and the rivers kept speaking,
  22. of rivers, of boulders and air.
  23. Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless,
  24. the untested rivers kept speaking.
  25. Bus drivers, shelf stockers,
  26. code writers, machinists, accountants,
  27. lab techs, cellists kept speaking.
  28. They spoke, the fifth day,
  29. of silence.

This poem was read on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as part of the March for Science on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2017. Jane Hirshfield wrote it on January 25th, the fifth day of Donald Trump’s presidency, when information on climate change was removed from the White House website and scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies were ordered to release no further research information without permission. Scientists at Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, began unofficially tweeting factual information that day, and scientists at governmental agencies and universities began copying research files onto back-up servers.  (…)

Jane Hirshfield is chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.