Making the earth say beans instead of grass. — Thoreau
Cultivation, yes. By dawn and sunlight sweep. By hoe and hand. Holy labor, acre by ancient acre. Indian land once. Seeing neighbors now and then from town. Advice: manure in the rows. Puzzlement: this is how you live? All the gestures of man received, graciously returned. And how the weeds protested! How they objected to order. Geometry of the woods. Clear the eye, see the truth. Only truth. Plant the pulses. In time, that crop, that risen crop, was you.
How strange it seemed that so, so long, old friends, you’d risen only for the ordinary, the usual chores, your wizened grip wearing the gloves of what must be done. The needful, your dull salutes. How you wandered, lost, in the pale thicket of the known. And I as well, the bearer of no beautiful songs. Two of a kind, you and I. Weary. Until that stir, that gypsy stir, those pure and pregnant roses birthing everywhere all at once their nurseries, rouged and redolent. And how you stirred as if from sleep. How you lifted, not toward pen or poem, but speechless, toward touch, like a loving mother, feeling your way through light, caressing the silken sheen, the trembling skin of the world.
Hate is much maligned in the shadows of the soul, the root cellars of revenge. The way it eclipses everywhere the light. Stains the whiteness of the world. How it gnaws. What glorious focus, though, what purpose it brings. Do you not tremble, vibrate in the chill? Quiver with delight? When have you felt more alive? Isn’t it like the clarity of delirium. The hot iron, the slap. Roused, you go forth with your army of demons. Missions of malpractice. Even the angels shiver. Even Death, indifferent and eternal, takes notice. Even he stands, nods, and stays your appointed time a little longer, just a little bit longer.
I see how the past holds us captive, its beautiful ruin etched on the mind’s eye. — Natasha Trethewey
You have to imagine it falsely, the truth of confusion and dream, night riders calling your name vaguely, that muttering in the wind. You want to say you remember, faces like quick moments of lightning, then gone, darkness all around, erasure, memory like a blurring rain. And all around you mist, equivocation. The riders wild and wide-eyed as they rush away, back toward a road you’ll never find.
At the tomb of Rilke
Restive roots, mnemonics of earth and soul. Wind whispers the way. Nothing ever ends. That spirit, waiting. Those words, stirring, like embers. Everything returns. The circle sweep of time. The dead will rise in sunlight and shadow. Every birth a promise. Green can never die. Wait, now, wait. Lay your head upon the ground. Listen. Even grass can speak. Even dirt resounds in song. Be patient. Even dust can burst to flames.
Look at the soot on a white background. — Daniela Danz
Snow, like a lie of purity. A shroud. Nothing left. No scattered teeth. Or glasses. No ragged shoes. Everything erased by the moonlit machine. Soldiers scrubbing memory, the walls. Shadows of spirit. Bone crushers. The frantic efficiency. While far away, up high, beyond the smoke, the sky said: Enough. Some souls have to come back. Some ashes. Look closer now. A palimpsest. Traces of flesh. An old blood painting. Handprint of a scream. See the soot. The white background. Before everything disappears.
John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.