Running From the Ecological Wave

Lateef McLeod, a black man looking serious at the camera while sitting in what appears to be a wheelchair

The poem “Running from the Ecological Wave” was written by CommunicationFIRST Board member Lateef McLeod, who lives in Oakland, California. It was first performed as part of Sins Invalid’s October 2020 show, “We Love Like Barnacles: Crip Lives in Climate Chaos.” In March 2022, the poem won the Wynn Newhouse Award. We reprint the poem here in celebration of National Poetry Month with the permission of Sins Invalid, and recommend their “Language Justice is Disability Justice” statement. A video of Lateef reciting “Running from the Ecological Wave” can be found here.

Running from the Ecological Wave

by Lateef H. McLeod 

Out of the darkness,
my people come out of the mist.

Our feet step on the sun-cracked earth.

We clutch clumps of the land
between our fingers and toes,
as if we can squeeze
the pollutants and toxins from every speck.

As the blazes erupt in the hills
and fill the gray skies
with thick gray layers of smoke,

who will come and get me
in my wheelchair
when my building starts burning?

Will the firefighters listen to me
that I need my AAC device
when they are rescuing me from the flames?

Will my electronic voice be saved?
Or will it disintegrate in the ash?

Will my home



be safe

when the sea waters
roll over the green Californian hills?

Is there a safe place
to take refuge
when the ecological waves
start rushing in?

Will we have protection
when our homes



and crumble

as the Big One
finally shatters
our very foundation?

In the aftermath of the earthquake,
will we learn to clutch each other
as lifelines, and save each other,
no matter the condition
of our bodyminds?

Or will we scatter,

reject each other 

because our skin is different,

our gender is different,

our sexuality is different,

our abilities are different?

Will we have the courage
to claw and crack
this system
that breaks and pollutes the land
as it breaks and pollutes our bodies?

This system,
who tries to whip the land into submission
like it whips our bodies.

The lashes try to make us conform to a model
that neither us nor the ecosystem can live up to.

This system,
who estranges us from the land,
like we are estranged from our bodies,
so we don't flinch in pain,
as they both deteriorate.

The system lies to us.
It tells us we can live separate from the land.
It tells us that we can survive with the water being polluted.
It tells us that when the ozone disappears the sun won't cook us to a crisp.

These fatal lies lead us closer to the ledge
that is above the deep and dark chasm of our destruction.

Will we embrace the earth as our humble home
as it always was?

Or will the burning, raging inferno
consume us all to ash?

Do we


the courage?