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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

Allison Cummings

Idiocy in Peace

In a pandemic conference on Zoom,

a Lenape man asked why schools don’t teach

kids Earth skills—which weeds to eat,

how to build soil, split firewood,

or companion plant trees that fire

or loggers have orphaned of their mothers.


On this perfect morning,

the native plants hug the dirt road

downstream from the beaver pond—

nannyberry, hazelnut, chokecherry,

elderberry, dogbane, and fleabane,

rich forage for deer and me.


Marx was right and wrong

about the idiocy of rural life.

The city’s thick parade

of human limbs and quips may hone

muscle and tongue, keep one humble

and hip to each new thing.


And it’s true there’s not a thought in my head

worthy of you, Reader,

just names of plants I’ve met in books

or out walking, the scent-notes of cinnamon

ferns over late mice inviting sexton

beetles under the porch. I’m listening


for other tongues, breathing smoky air

with the winged, furred, petaled beings right here,

the us of this latitude, whatever remains

of our tenuous lifespans,

our heart roots

woven underground.

Who Do What Has to be Done

the pitcher cries for water to carry

And the person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy, “To Be of Use



In all these stone walls crisscrossing the woods


I see my father’s shoulder blades shifting


under his shirt to heft gneiss slabs into earthforms,


his banker’s back aching each weekend to leave


something elegant in stone.


When my kids enter their twenties,


may they dive into work to salvage a future—


stopping pipelines and redlines, fracking and trawling,

what threatens people, trees, bees, or seas,


seeding intertidal oyster reefs and mangrove swamps

to sieve the swelling, plasticene seas,


deeding ditches and hedgerows

to moose and wood cock, monarch and milk snake,


seeding funds for reparations

and schools kids love,


planting sycamore and oak to shade

vacant lots and concrete streets where statues glared

where elders sweat in shotgun flats


gleaning apple orchards or boardrooms for food banks,

heaping peels and pizza boxes, bioplastics and humanure

into urban vermicultured gold,


retrieving wood, stone and rare earths from hurricanoed coastal mansions,

water lapping at their calves, to build shelter

for climate refugees on inland hills,


adopting one kid, if that—

reviving hankies so the boreal might respire,


designing pinwheel turbines for the headbands of bullet trains

or sleek solar film for the moonroofs of electric cars, bikes,

and the black wells of our phones,

(or weaning off the umbilical cells… )


staying put or on foot, now that we Zoom,

living slower, gentler, [insert your vision here],


synthesizing an ecstatic psychedelic exit

for those of us willing to go

before our senescence bankrupts the next gen


rising each day to do


what our great-grandparents knew to do


and much of what they didn’t,


tending our gardens


in the larger plot.


When a student wrote that I failed
to note a trigger warning
for the assault
in “Leda and the Swan,”
a wire tripped inside,
and violets on the quad
boomed skyward in sally:
Did we insult real women
in calling that rape?
Wasn’t the perp a swan,
a myth beneath
ancient paint and stone,
and poor naked Leda
a means, a metaphor,
handmaid of history,
helpless to birth beauty,
war upon war or peace—
whatever might come
of men?
And yet, as half the states finger
triggers, training a long-necked,
indifferent beak
on students and teachers,
daughters and mothers
still forced to engender
broken walls, barbed wire,
dropping us back
to a medieval future,
I wonder if the first violation
isn’t to be made vessel
to another’s will?


Allison is a professor of English at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. She has published poems in The American Journal of Poetry, The Literary Review, Puerto del Sol, Passages North, and other little magazines, and essays and scholarly articles on contemporary women’s poetry in journals and book collections. She is a native plant gardener and a mother of teenage twins and a black Pitbull named Blue.

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