a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Section 2: Water/Blood/Being

Alexander Levering Kern


Grandparents, Salvaging

Their sacred duty, she explains
is to patrol the beach for plastic & glass
castoffs of a wanton world.
So they walk, the grandmother, crowned in white
her husband like Superman in a fedora:
each with a bag –
this island, their home, which salvaged
their lives from the empty nest,
gathering up whatever
sharp ugly things
might threaten the blue heron as it descends
with a cry as old as morning light.

Daybreak Over the Renaissance Hotel
Atlanta Airport, 2004

Outside the fortress window, down beyond the trees
past the moat of shimmering cars
the lone valet turns his key

swinging his jacket over one shoulder,
girding himself for whatever it is
this one-more day will bring.

Even here, on godknowswhat floor,
his name badge glints a word of Welcome
to an Atlanta morning blinking its one eye awake.

Send him prayers now, something quiet
and lonely says. Send prayers of unknowing,
prayers for a stranger beginning his day.

Beyond him cars scamper over the highway,
rodents seeking their daily bread.
On the runway, chrome chariots come and go,
swinging low to steal the captives or carry them home.

And miles from here across the parched fields of East Carolina,
they’re tearing down tobacco barns, recycling old boards
to fashion from the father’s house

of blackened lung & old Jim Crow
new kitchen floors and bright rec rooms
for the son’s resplendent home.

And miles from here, Florida’s swimming deep under water
dodging the hurricane, awaiting the flood.
And miles from here, Mount Saint Helens rumbles again
her nostrils flaring like seraphim.

And soon the oil spill will snake its tongue
across the gaping Delaware,
with silent armies ready to breach
the waters of Philadelphia.

The land is warring abroad and within,
while the lone blind man is throwing stones
at mirrors in the flooded hall

singing It’s time to turn now, time to move
before the hour of wet ash and soot
before it all comes round again
before it all comes round.

Soundings from Chebeague Island,
the “Land of Many Springs

          – overheard on North Road, and down by the shore

If an island could speak, what might it say
and what might we, if listening, hear?

Restless feet
running on gravel
The squish of new pavement
along North Road
The quiet of the Grannell Cottage
awakening
white as enamel
a molar glistening in the sun
The soft contraction
of wet towels drying
reminder of yesterday’s joy
The silence of guns
in the gravel pit
The word “Where?”
stretched out
by the lobsterman
grown
to three syllables at least
The puttering motors of fishing boats
and down by the wharf
the lobsters plotting their escape
The mourning dove
and riot of crows
demanding new food to eat
The crunch of sea grass
the panting dog’s tongue
The blue heron’s complaint
when startled from stillness
and her great one-legged last stand

The chatter of brooks
exchanging yesterday’s news
from deep within
the aquifer

The Wabanakis’ final song
and the cry of an island
as sea levels rise

The thunder of an ice floe the size of New Jersey
breaking off from the coast
of Greenland this week

And the sound of returning
to the cabin by the creek:
the clicking of Legos
on the hardwood floor

as our children build a new world.

Alexander Levering Kern is a poet, writer, educator and Quaker activist. His writing has received various awards and appeared in publications such as Georgetown Review, Concho River Review, Mobius, Spare Change News, Blue Collar Review, and anthologies from Meridian Anthology, Pudding House, Ibbetson Street, and others. He is editor of the anthology Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing from Rising Generations. Living in Boston (and at times on Chebeague Island, Maine), he has worked on climate action and environmental issues with the NAACP in North Carolina in the 1990s, Tolupane Indians in Honduras, farmers on the Navajo reservation in Leupp, Arizona, and interfaith communities around urban toxins and 350.org Tar Sands organizing in New England. He serves as Executive Director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service at Northeastern University in Boston.

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