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

Pamela Uschuk

Where The Emptiness Begins

for Patricia Jabbeh Wesley



Walking the dogs in Children’s Memorial Park, Peruvian mesquites

drape generous lacey shade where we stroll over

the crisp carpet of dead leaves. At the base of an elder,

a pool of sap thick as copal and wide as my torso, bark

stained black along the trail of tears

from the wound where an arborist has cut

off a large limb. Who knows how long

this tree has cried her timeless grief?

I spread my hand where the emptiness begins

across my chest for the 20-year-old son

shot and killed “by mistake” while talking

on the phone to his mom. My Liberian friend

calls crying she’s scared when her son

drives or walks the streets after dark. Together

we cry and cry until her heart song rises

to the canopy of these magnificent mesquite trees

park staff trim, trees that lose limb after limb

for our thoughtless walking path past

the Children’s Memorial Wall

written with the names of thousands of lost sons

and daughters, some taken by disease, others drowned, killed

in car accidents, at home or by police, by guns or fists, all

dead too soon, names etched into granite

polished deaf as burnished steel.

Watching The Geminid Meteor Shower

All through desert day meteors burn out their lives

in air that keeps us alive. Winter that is not

winter sees snowless peaks nestle under starched blue

the color of a glacier’s heart. I think of cousins

stirring from low log houses at 50 below

to break ice from horse noses, preparing to ride out

through Kamchatka snow deep as the memory of wolves

lifting songs to stars that fall across scent trails

left by ermine and voles.


Night by arctic night that is arctic day tilts

its shadowy face from the vanished sun

while shooting stars sear across our retinas

and our planet hums through a meteor’s disintegrating tail.

Beneath glaciers breaking into the sea, belugas

flow like ghosts, their smiles unmistakably kind

as they sing old ice songs, open their mouths to a host of krill.

On the beach golden eagles fight with harpies

over a fat walrus carcass. Beluga, you

resemble my greatgrandmother, white kerchief

knotted over her summer head.


I don’t know my Irkutsk cousins, only the name

we share that means a whale who spirals

down down down to the bottom of the sea

to evade her enemies, then rises to lightfilled

placid tides. How can she evade the floating acres

of plastic and styrofoam islands strangling waves?


Across the Pacific, pestilence walks

our nation, swinging a smoky censor

of disease ossifying lungs to concrete, killing kidneys,

clotting livers, brains and hearts. 800,000

dead and counting. Why not look to the stars

so distant their icy poultices comfort our wounds

or meteors that sizzle against loss crossing midnight

through Orion’s diamond belt?


What did my relatives

call this constellation they drew on rock outcrops

during the long days of a Siberian June so long ago?

Brown bear standing on his hind legs to

reach dark wild honey hived in the crown of night?

Do those families bearing my name, feel

in their deepest dreams a lost cousin in a desert

counting another mass die-off of songbirds,

with no sturdy horses to carry her

home, calling across shimmering ice fields?


Pam Uschuk’s eight books of poems include Crazy Love, winner of an American Book Award, and Refugee, Red Hen Press, May 2022. Translated into more than a dozen languages, her work appears in Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni Review, etc. Awards include Best of the Web, Story Knife Women Writers Fellowship, Dorothy Daniels Writing Award from the National League of American PEN Women, and prizes from Ascent and Amnesty International. Editor-In-Chief of CUTTHROAT, A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS, and Senior BEI Fellow, Uschuk lives in Colorado and Arizona with her husband William Root and dogs Talulah and Mojo Buffalo Buddy. She edited the anthologies Truth To Power: Writers Respond To The Rhetoric Of Hate And Fear, 2017, Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century, and Through The Ash, New Leaves, 2022. She’s just finished a multi-genre memoir titled HOPE’S CRAZED ANGELS: AN ODYSSEY THROUGH OVARIAN CANCER.

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