Jenna Israel

Let Me Count The Ways

There are seven billion, 423 million, 272 thousand of us on this planet

1.2 billion cars

358 manned missions to the stars

13 robots on Mars


This, we say, this is progress

It must be

The numbers prove it

The numbers don’t lie


30: Brown spider monkeys of the subspecies A. hybridus brunneus

Not 30 million, not 30 thousand, thirty

The species overall has declined precipitously

80% over the past 45 years, conservatively

And these monkeys

They look like old men to me

This monkey

White fur on his head like a bald spot

White fur on his cheeks like my grandfather’s beard

Staring at the camera with my grandfather’s blue eyes

Wrapping himself in limbs that look too big for him

They look like old men

But they are acrobats

They use their tails and their hands on their hands and their hands on their feet

To swing through the trees

Like trapeze artists

With less ease these days

As trees fall down around them

Scientists call it fragmentation

The creation of pieces

Like the jungle is a puzzle we’ve decided to put back in the box

Like the jungle is another specimen we need to dissect

Like the jungle is an egg we’re cracking against the bowl

In our recipe for industry

It cracks like eggs

Cracks like bones

Cracks like bad jokes

Cracks like sad smiles

Cracks like my grandfather’s face when he tells me he’s starting to feel his age

These monkeys are acrobats

But they look like old men

3: Northern White Rhinoceroses left on the entire Earth

3. But really, really it’s more like 1.5

Because those 3, they live half-lives

They live in captivity

We have to shelter them away from where they can be free

For fear of poaching

For fear of big men with big guns

Who leave rhino corpses hornless in the sun

There are none, not a single one

Left in nature

In terms of the wild, they are officially extinct

Because rhino horn works wonders for the human

Living room

And yet, we do not give them living room

2: Bois Dentelle trees left in the wild

2. On one hill, on one island off the coast of Africa

2, one for each of my eyes

My eyes which trace up trunks full of grace

To see branches dripping with white lace

As if… as if they’re about to get married

As if they’re about to walk down the aisle

Reach across the land,

Intertwine their boughs,

Hold each other’s hands

And say their wedding vows

“Till death do us part.”

I know you might ask

“Why should I care about trees in wedding dresses

Or monkeys or rhinoceroses?

I mean, it’s survival of the fittest.”

Let me answer your question with a question.

Why do I care that I will never see a dodo bird walk across the Earth,

Unable to fly on its tiny little wings?

Why do I care that I will never hear a Bachman’s warbler sing?

Why do I care that my children might not know trees to exchange wedding rings?

Why do we make movies about dinosaurs and wooly mammoths and pterodactyls

Unless we know, somewhere deep inside ourselves, we are missing something?

I’m not saying we killed the dinosaurs

I’m saying that when a child digs up fossils

That look in his eye, that awe,

Is half wonder, half nostalgia

That we only know what we have when it’s gone

That we will soon miss what we have lost

And that more than us, our children will feel the cost

The numbers prove it
The numbers don’t lie

©2016 by the author. Used with permission.

About Jenna Israel
Jenna Israel is a senior at Millburn High School. She writes a lot and reads a lot and watches a lot of slam poetry on YouTube. Some of her favorite poets are Edgar Allan Poe, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Andrea Gibson, and Rhiannon McGavin.
Writer's Statement
The best reason for why I write is that I like reading. Everything else—spreading an idea, flexing my creative muscles, getting something off my chest—comes second to the simple fact that I read a lot as a kid, and wanted to do that. I want other people to get lost in my words just as I do in the words of Austen or Hughes or, of course, Rowling. That means that I write about whatever pulls me in the most, whatever gives me the strongest feeling.