a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
They gathered in the clearing to ask together the question that forever they had gathered in the clearing together to ask: Of what is this world made?
Inchworm inched forward: Like last year and ten thousand before, I traveled hard inching miles to arrive here and am honored to speak first. I am tired. I am alive with textures belly-touched. And I am bellyless, a belly elongated, a tube-shaped dude. And I am a memory of thin grasses, fallen twigs, stems, pebbles, glittering grains of sand, bark bits, dew. Is the world great rough-smooth distances fused seamlessly in every direction, a mosaic vastness, a circle eternal, a thrilling slog?
Deer stamped and snorted, snorted again, stotted, snorted, stotted again: Is the world a spongy bog, a sphagnum recoil, a coiled spring? Is the world a turning head and a noticing? Is the world a quick blink and predator fled? Is the world a daybed in bracken? Is the world an ear-swivel and a nose-twitch? Is the world a trembling quickness? Is the world my darling spotted fawn? Is the world going, going, gone?
Cold shivered down diagonally, a single white snowflake blinking crystal brightness until alighting on some body’s dark steaming flank: It’s too hot here in this hair, in this fur, and I fear my structural integrity is forecast to melt. That is to say, my perfect unique self. That is to say, my crushable health. Never fear! Of rheology and transformation I chant in my singular fleeting way. Is the world night becoming day becoming night becoming day? Is the world the loss of shape, the form flowing toward fluid, the gentle drifty beauty packed into firn? Is the world a glacier bound to burn?
Fire flickered: Is the world an urn? Is the world a pyre? Is the world salt on my tongue as I lick at those who perspire? Let me at those armpits. Let me at your chest. Is the world an engine fueled by my request, my unkillable quest?
Laughter laughed: Why did the chicken cross the road? Is the world the other side?
Child whined, thumb in mouth: Wha, wha, wha, what’s funny? I miss my mommy. I’ve got an empty tummy. Candy is yummy. My nose is runny. Is the world my stuffy, my soft pink bunny? Is the world my snuggly blanky?
Frog croaked, though none could tell where in the muck the camouflaged croaker hunkered: Is the world a place to hide? To hide and belch-sing at once? Is the world a fly for lunch?
Fly buzzed an infinity sign and swerve-dived: Is the world but a moment? Is the world the romance of a day?
Dolphin leaped: Is the world oceanic oneness? Is the world chatty nonsense? Is the world chicka-bow-wow, shake your booty, let’s get disco-busy, funky grooves, hot backflip moves off a bow wave?
Ocean leaped: Is the world a veering school of silver fins tickling the underneath of my blue chin?
Stream leaped: Whitewater! Whitewater! I am the daughter of gravity! I am the mountain’s niece! I am rain’s sister! Sky, remember? Remember the night I was born in a storm in the black cracked by electricity? I’ve got that energy and it’s got me! Is the world a sheer drop, a spray and splash, a mad dash? Is the world a froth and catch? Is the world a catchment? Is the world ready for me with an eddy? Is the world waiting with soft granite hands?
King came out prancing: My gun is loaded and my wall is built and my robe is purple silk and my scepter is covered in finest gilt. Is the world my oyster, my oyster to pry the pearl from with opposable thumbs? Is the world my tasty treat? Is the world what I decree?
Gods linked elbows: We get lonely on our cloud-castle, lonely on our peak, lonely without toys, games, playthings. The ambrosia buzz is waning and the habit is hard to kick. Creation, that is. So we kick to shit in our shitkicker boots the ant’s nest, the grand marble arch, the love, the fear, then start fresh there, here, wherever. Is the world an experiment to pass the time? Is the world a flipped dime, a coin toss? Is the world a whim?
Wind groaned: Is the world in need of a cleansing breeze? Is the world a gale that, if you have knees, will bring you to your knees?
Silence exhaled: I have no knees. I have no me. Is the world ever going to hear the slip, the slide, the nothing of my non-tears? Is the world every noise that was and will be held, hugged, embraced by absence?
Bird caught an updraft: Is the world a corkscrewing ascent? Is the world a wing bent, curved, cocked? Is the world a flock? Is the world mapped by magnets in the migrant’s mind? Is the world cloaca and nictitating membrane?
Platypus spun like a sassy model and unsuccessfully tried on kissy lips: Is the world a mad collage, a mashed mix of the raw and refined? Is the world an avant-garde experiment? Is the world a half-cocked, cockeyed, cockamamie attempt? Is the world a rule from which I am exempt?
Virus sped toward yet another cell: Who the guest, who the host? Is the world heaven, hell, both?
Volcano erupted: Excuse me, sorry to be so smoky. I’ve been pondering. Is the world molten geology?
Mushroom glanced at spider: Is the world mycorrhizae?
Spider rappelled on an invisible strand, switched to a horizontal line, rappelled from a new anchor, ascended the ether, hovered above tiger: Is the world a glue, a secret web?
Tiger sneezed: Is this roar an encore or the main show? Is the world a freshet of blood and a nuzzled cub?
Coral trumpeted the ancient conch: I am bleached metropolis. I am acidified empire. I am expired. I am inspired to rebuild from the rubble. Is the ship sunk? Is the world in trouble? Is the world soluble, insoluble?
Music clapped, hummed, banged a beat on the party drum: Is the world a minor chord, a major scale run quick through fifteen octaves? Is the world tension and release, crescendo and decrescendo, diminuendo, pianissimo, triple forte, dissonance and consonance and a place to rest, resolution?
Donkey brayed and pissed and nipped toothily: I’m through with sadness, done with being glum. Beat that party drum! Thump, thump, thump! Is the world dance, dance revolution?
Mouse skittered, pawing at drooping whiskers: Cheese, please? I’m hungry. Oh, so hungry. And so are my babies. And so are the hawks and snakes and foxes. Is the world too busy to bother with the tiny and teensy? Is the world lucky, unlucky?
Ghost disappeared: Is the world foggy, fuzzy, receding, retreating?
Grandmother sighed: Is the world green plant made milk and white milk made bone and an empty nest, an empty home, an achy lumbar, a family spread far and wide?
Dust swirled: My hair is red and my mind aflame, my curiosity untamed. Wild, wild, wild is this wonder in me and giant is this glee of inquiry. Is the world not accretionary? Is the world not a chorus of layered questions? Is the world not harmony? Can you hear my voice inside your voice, friends?
Death boomed: Is the world an end?
Birth squeaked: Is the world an end?
Echo echoed: Is the world an end?
Clearing, with a cough, with a clearing of the throat, at last spoke: Enough, enough. My head is spinning. Centrifugally, centripetally? Beats me. Is the world filled to brimming? Is the world dizzying? Is the world in the asking? I thank you all, sincerely, for coming.
Leath Tonino is freelance writer publishing prose and poetry in Orion, The Sun, New England Review, Tricycle, Outside, and many other magazines. He’s the author of two essay collections, both with Trinity University Press: The Animal One Thousand Miles Long (2018) and The West Will Swallow You (2019). Prior to committing to full-time freelancing at age twenty-five, he shoveled snow in Antarctica and tracked raptors with the US Forest Service on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.