a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
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.
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.
Other works by Pamela Uschuk »