How Immigrants Become Environmentalists by Clara Changxin Fang


After adolescence in Mid-western
small towns, shopping malls
mushroomed on razed prairies,
cul-de-sacs absent of sidewalks,
half remembering the dream-drenched
alleys with laundry in the windows,
vendors selling vegetables on the back
of their bicycles, the fields in which
you wandered chaperoned by geese—
You were a boy in a fairytale,
dropping bread crumbs to mark
the way home. Years later,
even clouds have lost their names.
The radio is full of news of destruction,
cities swept by flood, tornados
passing the flatlands of your sleep.
At night you hear the ocean
knocking at your door, asking
for shelter in a warming world.
The desert’s fingers reach into the city,
begging you for morsels of wheat.
Then some days you walk out
to geese lapping the edge of the reservoir,
the bank of a highway erupting
into switch grass and bulrush,
wilderness cracking slabs of sidewalk.
Sometimes the noise of rain falling
in the night is the sound of trains
barreling through the tunnels of your childhood,
the smell of a forest is all you need
to remember the day you were born,
and fireflies cupped in your hands
are not ghosts of forgotten twilights
but a lighthouse towards which the planets
sail unmoored.


Clara Changxin Fang was born in Shanghai, China and immigrated to the United States when she was nine years old. Her poems have been published in Nimrod, Borderlands, Poet Lore,, Verse Daily, among others. She holds an MFA from University of Utah and a Master of Environmental Management from Yale. She currently lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and writes a blog at