A to Z: The Animals for a Child’s Earth Day

I just substitute taught

music to kindergarteners

crazy wild-haired college teacher

radical journalist, fifty-seven

so many lamentations . . . .

“I was in that Mexican town

when it was just a sleepy

fishing village . . . or climbed into a cloud

forest in Vietnam when the f

was still in forest and c did

not mean contaminants … and

off Belize, you can’t imagine the lemon

sharks, before the Asians ramped up

shark-fin soup . . . .”


there were bongos



piano, the kids coming

in expecting docile subservience

common core curriculum


but it’s earth day

went traveling from Portland

to rural landscape

elementary school in the middle

of farms, McMansions and old farm

houses, four-vehicle garages

and tool sheds next to pigs

huge waves of Canada geese

and four eagles on thermals

passing tractors and llama farms

a coyote ducked under sheep

fence, grandfather ravens

picked at possum road

kill, amazing flower, tulips

SUVs delivering children


we sang sun songs

took the rusty piano chords from

a is for aardvark to z is for

zebra, and all animals in between

n was tricky, but they got the narwhal

and x, well, they got yak for y

and then xantis for another yak

some third grader thought x-ray fish

was cool, and instead of z for zebra

I pulled the bongos in and said,

“z is for Zapalapadingdong

I am a small rat with big ears

and I eat insects, now back to a is

for armadillo and b is for bat . . . .”


so there it is, one morning, mourning

some of those places, reefs that are

eutrophication reminders

stag horn corals knocked over

like a meteor-smashed boreal forest

China Beach Vietnam and Quintana

Roo, luxury ships and tankers raking

entire ecosystems for the junk of the

ages, the endless plastic tides


where do they go now, six-year-olds

fed the spoon of silicone mastery

screens that burst with animated

energy, stories lifted from warped

brains of Hollywood types

animals that are cartoons, jiving

and full of street talking weirdness

super-animated scenes of dinosaurs

saddled up by Adam, Eve plucking

pterodactyl feathers for a headdress?


these children are deer, stuck in the head

lights of progress, days locked inside humming

cloud servers, stuck to piping hot keyboard

stuck in a world of digital dictation

drowned by the very essences of social

media, the boring becoming the honored

their parents pushing their little kid questions

about armadillos – lizard or rodent – into Google

each and every burp and blip from Facebook

a discovery for their big sisters, aunts


they have a wonderful world, 58-inch

plasma TVs, shark week like some spaghetti

western, divers smiling like Clint Eastwood

the cuts and editing like some info-mercial

but these little singers, well, they didn’t

know it’s earth day, that Rachel Carson fought

for them and Lois Gibbs is still fighting

or that Paul Watson works for animals

not people, or that there are journalists fighting

the green is the new red scare tactics

of multi-national food thugs

calling us eco-terrorists

as if Obama and Osama and Kissinger and Carter

and laughing hyena Clintons are the zoo keepers


they hope to live in a virtual circus

one day meet Shamu, or have a ride with

dolphins, maybe a swing with orangutans, but never

a neck hug by your neighborhood friendly ball

python . . . . when is it they should know about clouds

transpiration . . . water and super storms

and well teaching them to turn their backs

on the little climate change lies of adults?


work-work hard, study-study more

and follow your elders and listen

to authority, and just do your work and keep head

down . . . white picket fence, new Mustang

in driveway, work-consume-spit out- throw away

do the capitalist thing, sweet children

whose songs capture innocence

that should be leading armies

innocence that would turn hell

into heaven

when do these little singers and bongo

players get to make it up

take the world through the a-b-c’s

laugh at J is for Japanese macaque

and  W is for wombat C for civet


Mother Nature we sang about

I played chords while 20 kids each

session made musical sounds

pantomimed like the animal

of their dreams

extinct, long on endangered lists

we sang for aardwolf

 Barasingha deer made them laugh

caiman and coatimundi they got

stories from their 57-year-old radical

substitute banging out simple

tunes on piano


watching sun shadows

above, as kids in kindergarten

and third grade seemed like the

answer to the mayhem

they seem like the reason to

fight for earth

for every day

letting the generals and CEOs

back into their cages

throwing bits of plastic

and hydrocarbon for their meals

the giants of IT and GMOs

they would be good elephant

shovelers, just the right shape for

the concessions


so all the animals

running free

might see the poachers dead

or hanging from banana trees

all of those children

in charge now, and all they want

is a zorilla or zorro to end

a song, so they can sing

it over and over

until all those insects

and mammals

the floating marine creatures

until they all have names

all have songs

while the despots and politicians

the harbingers of private equity

are behind bars, zoos, open air

the mites more mighty than a billionaire

scabies rendering the hippest Hollywood


into a Kafkaesque

hunger artist

while the kids sing

“ring around the rosey

a pocket full of posies”

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.