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  • Kathryn Patterson

Poem: Burning

We burnt gasoline and oil Driving to work Driving to school Driving to stores, museums, the movies Driving to gas stations To buy more gasoline We burnt diesel Driving trains Driving tractor-trailers Moving coal, lumber, sheet metal Moving cars to people To use to burn gasoline We burnt, burnt, burnt Until the offspring of our burning Burnt the ground in Africa Killing plants Killing animals Killing crops, crops, crops Until millions of people starved



I wrote this poem after watching a science show that discussed the drought in northern Africa in the early 1980s. You see, the rains usually travel from southern Africa to northern Africa once a year, and people in such countries as Ethiopia depend on the rains for their survival. The seasonal rains stopped in the early 1980s, and the subsequent drought killed millions of people. Then, in the late 1980s, the seasonal rains returned. For the longest time, we didn't know why.

Then, some scientists stumbled across the reason while researching the effects of particulate pollution. To sum up their findings, the air pollution generated in the US during the 1970s and early 1980s traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, and disrupted the rain cycle in Africa.

After watching this show and thinking over their evidence and conclusions, I sat astounded for several minutes. Who knew that the world was so interconnected? Who knew that Americans had accidentally killed millions of Africans simply through driving cars?

I felt sickened at the thought, and a little guilty because I love driving around. So I wrote this poem, to capture the mood.

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