Encounter

Standing next to me
And my large sign
Extinction Rebellion!
A man with a bicycle asks
What we are doing.
“A die-in,” I explain,
“To dramatize how
Carbon emissions
Are killing us,
Killing our chances
To continue
As a species.
Other species too,
Maybe all of life.”
He responds somberly
“I know what you mean.
I gave up my car six years ago,
Right after I had
A brain tumor removed.
I looked at my life
And I looked around and saw
What was happening
To the world
And wanted to do
What I could
To be part of a solution.”
His speech is slightly slurred,
The left side of his face
Is somewhat askew,
The corner of his lip
Is sagging
As if a toddler
Had stuck a finger in his mouth
And was tugging it downwards.
“This is really important,”
He declares gravely,
“Do you think it would be all right
If I lay down too?”
“Everyone’s welcome,” I say.
He leans his two-wheeler
Against a fire hydrant
Near the large group
Of climate activists
Lying in the street
And finds an open area
To settle down among them,
This man
Who has survived
An encounter with mortality
And knows
More than a little
About living and dying
Honoring us with his presence
As we demand an end
To the climate criminality
Threatening to turn the whole biome
To ashes and dust.

Buff Whitman-Bradley's poems have appeared in many print and online journals. His most recent books are To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World, and Cancer Cantata. With his wife Cynthia, he produced the award-winning documentary film "Outside In," and with the MIRC film collective, made the film "Por Que Venimos." His interviews with soldiers refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were made into the book "About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War." He lives in northern California. Read other articles by Buff.