Rituals for Climate Change: A Crip Struggle for Ecojustice by Naomi Ortiz
$23.00 | punctum books | 208 pp. | August 2023 | ISBN: 978-1-68571-112-2
"[Climate change] is one more thing we have to deal with in a day of car doesn’t start, boss upset, kid with cough body push through, get home late, make some kind of dinner / What to do with this information / who knows what to do with it?" — Naomi Ortiz, Rituals for Climate Change: A Crip Struggle for Ecojustice
In Rituals for Climate Change, Naomi Ortiz parses the complexities of an interdependent relationship with nature, whose growing need for intervention is occasionally at odds with those of people with disabilities. Several poems in Rituals contend with the discord between environmentally sustainable practices and practices that are sustainable for people with disabilities: “call it an accommodation / this need for plastic cups…Where is my place in zero waste?” When I asked Ortiz about this conflict, they expressed an idea that would resurface throughout our interview: “it requires us slowing down…what does it mean for people to participate in the most environmentally just ways…in a way that's going to be accessible?” This and other questions they posed have no easy answers, especially when so much of American culture doesn’t recognize the need for accessibility, even in the simplest of situations. This neglect is something that Ortiz attempts to remedy through interdependence, the “human ecosystem of precarious survival.” “Survival requires so much more than any one person can do alone,” ” writes Ortiz. This is true about communities, such as Ortiz’s own community, who helped them from childhood with difficulties related to their disability. It also applies to our relationship with nature. I asked Ortiz how we can be interdependent with nature, which turned out to be one of their main objectives in writing Rituals. Ortiz initially thought the answer would be a set of tasks, but they found a different conclusion: “it turned out, for me at least, to be a lot about witnessing and…when there is an opportunity stepping into it.” The act of witnessing arises as a powerful action in situations where other actions feel impossible or are inaccessible due to factors including disability. Witnessing. An action of which most of us are capable but in which few engage. My conversation with Ortiz reminded me of simply listening when a loved one is getting their frustrations off their chest, rather than offering solutions right away. Of course, action is required to prevent further damage to the environment, but Ortiz referred to this act of witnessing as a first step, especially when the problem feels too big for individuals to grapple with: “there’s a combination between slowing down and…being willing to be in the discomfort of [powerlessness] for a while [to understand] what's actually happening…then we as a community and a society, and as a world can step in to shift things.” For Ortiz, part of bearing witness is communicating with the nature that surrounds them. “I feel a lot of comfort…sitting and listening to the land.” In Rituals, Ortiz told me, they write about the land communicating with them as well, about a voice “coming from the soil, from inside [them].” This literal act of speaking and listening also contributes to a “greater spiritual presence” with which Ortiz connects and which brings them comfort. Such a connection is something Ortiz believes we should strive for as we grow to love wherever we call home.
Brittany Torres Rivera is a bilingual, Puerto Rican writer. She graduated from Florida International University with a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Brittany is an alumna of the Fulbright Program and currently works as an Editorial and Administrative Assistant at Graywolf Press.