Story | 10 Sep, 2021

“Return to Being;” A poem by Nnimmo Bassey

Excerpt from the special issue of the CEESP publication Policy Matters, focusing on the stories and voices of environmental defenders; by Nnimmo Bassey *

The poem by Nnimmo Bassey “Return to Being” tells of the destructive actions and decisions that humans make and of Mother Earth’s concern for the “children she has spawned”. Bassey takes us on a journey of self-reflection to decide whether we are “too far gone to hear” as we watch our “trees metamorphose into carbon sinks” while our “commons are enclosed”. The poem ends with Mother Earth awakening, embracing her visible and invisible children, and “finally humans return to being”.

The battle rages

Who must gobble up the carbon budget,

Wrap Mother Earth in endless bales of smog?

Whose task is to pile the climate debt

And whose lot to be the carbon slave?

Colonize the biosphere

Obliterate the ethnosphere

Hopes mapped in colonial geographies of death

Scarified for sport, booby-trapped and floating on blood


Burst the funeral drums,

Tighten the tourniquets on hard hearts ensconced in hard hats

Drain the pipelines of caked memories and know

Fancy names for deadly scourges never made them friendly

Not Ebola. Not novelty in novel coronavirus

What children have I spawned, Mother Earth groans

The commons enclosed, entrapped for delicate, bloodied trophy hunters

Civilized kids hooked on zoos incarcerate relatives for a touch of the wild

All game snatching bread from astonished mouths of orphans

Now all masked, suited and 7 billion jabs against zoonotic embraces.


Hear the footsteps from the receding market squares

Are you too far gone to hear?

Hear the rumblings of resistance to naked market forces

That roasted habitats and habitations

Lands, seas and skies grabbed yet dreams cannot be corralled ‘cause

Daughters of the soil are ever alert, awake, hoisting the sky

And its watery dusts

Knowledge demonized by demons of market environmentalism and brazen extractivism

As the hunter’s bag becomes a weapon of mass destruction

Bulging pockets hack horns and tusks and an array of idiotic aphrodisiacs for limp brains

Slithering across the Savannah, stomping on our ancestral hearths

Shall we look, exiled, silent, sullen, sunk and annihilated as our trees metamorphose into carbon sinks?


The dream is gone, the cock has crowed,

The betrayer seeks a branch to ape a pendulum swing

And one or two shed a tear for the press

As the hawk glides softly on the winds of the dirge seeking a hapless prey

Funeral drums burst by pulsating biceps of pain

Flutes whisper a dirge long forgotten suddenly emerging from the depths of years of erased histories

As daughters and sons of the soil pick up pieces of sacred hills, rivers, forests

Mother Earth awakes, embraces her visible and invisible children

And finally humans return to being.


Special issue of Policy Matters: the stories and voices of environmental defenders across the globe “Return to Being;” A poem by Nnimmo Bassey Photo: Nnimmo Bassey
* NNIMMO BASSEY is the director of the ecological think-tank Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), with its head office in Benin City, Nigeria. He is a member of the steering committee of Oilwatch International – and was chair of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) (2008-2012). His books include We Thought it Was Oil, But It was Blood – Poetry (Kraft Books, 2002), I will Not Dance to Your Beat – Poetry (Kraft Books, 2011), To Cook a Continent. Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa (Pambazuka Press, 2012) and Oil Politics. Echoes of Ecological War (Daraja Press, 2016). His regular blog posts can be found at:

Excerpt from the publication Policy Matters 22 - Special Issue on Environmental Defenders