a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
too far to one side, or starting to straddle
a slope in my own back yard the way I’d always done,
to simply pull weeds. And it wasn’t only my thighs
bit by bit growing so weak that when—
just steps from my own front door—I bent to gather
bright red Sweet Gum leaves and fell, I had to crawl
to the tree’s slender trunk, hand
over hand, I had to pull myself up. No, the country
my head was in, the one in which I was born
was suddenly no longer home. Nonchalance,
the language I spoke there. What were priorities?
Household bills piled up, unopened. And when a dear
friend’s final breath chugged ever closer?
What difference would my presence have made?
To ask me why my words careened all over
every conversation, bounced off bewildered ears
like billiard balls in search of a pocket, would have been
to send me looking in darkness for a switch I didn’t
care enough to find. Oh, patient well-wishers, and you
who fell away, how much store we put in logic,
in stringing the very right words in the very right order,
in being able to open a simple post and circle necklace clasp.
But when the seat of Reason has been invaded, taken
hostage by a foreign power?
Where do we stand?
What should have been New York Finger Lakes between
my cranial lobes, were craters of the moon, fluid-filled.
What chance had Free Will against that small, benign onion
my surgeon, one bright morning, peeled, layer by layer, away
from the tip of my spinal cord, under the window
he’d cut in my skull, and removed, and later screwed back in?
Twelve years, he said, maybe
fifteen, that silent blockade had been snarling
traffic at Grand Central Station of Mind and Motion.
Or are these words
too nonchalant, still? Oh,
gentle readers, whose language, whose customs
I’m still relearning,
may you make of this tale a window
into the strangeness of countless others among us
who are not at home among us, for reasons beyond
their own control, for whom rescue may not ever come.
May you be kind. They do not will it so.
can I say? Most days, I study a tree, and a big outlandish
tree it is, offering big, round berries in every
stage of temptation: a hodgepodge of green, maroon, and black in each
and every fist-sized clump: a pantry of nonstop avian glee.
Why it pleases me so much, I cannot say, but I love to peer—sometimes, yes,
uneasy in my privilege: a desk, a roof, and time—down upon
large glossy leaves and the one bare branch in the middle,
which yesterday hosted the mating dance of the light brown Yucatán Doves
and their coupling, the briefest of piggyback thwacks.
What’s more—delight compounded—the resident Great
Kiskadee, who claims this whole entire tree as his own,
left them alone, although on other days he loves
to rest himself, off and on, on that very branch, when he isn’t flitting
deep into the deep green pyrotechnics of berries and leaves,
returning with a big black berry in his big black beak, gulping it down.
Some days I’m even luckier, catch a glimpse of his yellow-gold crown:
a crescent sun flashing once and sinking back into its own horizon
so fast the gesture is lost on his mate, flirting with berries elsewhere in this
inexhaustible, tropical tree. But not
lost on me, beguiled and trying to capture that high-speed magic with just
one click and failing, over and over, and also
suspending (forgive me) our struggles,
back home, to keep this whole blessed planet intact. But yours
is a question that’s also been nibbling at me: one that here
in the Yucatán jungle, close to the sea, I’ve not been able
to banish, until lo and behold, just
this morning a pair of jaw-dropping, starburst
recognitions rose and stunned me.
Perhaps the most gluttonous soul
in this whole spectacle is not Sir Kiskadee, after all, but the person
writing this poem, who went to these extremes,
to get as far away as she could
from constant news of hate that’s everywhere and all-consuming,
to fill the empty larder of her spirit with the crooning
and blooming and fruiting which has kept our sacred world humming
since life lifted into being. And now, instead of
bemoaning what the world has become, her business
will be—back home among you—to scout out every last high-speed antic
and steadfast miracle still remaining throughout the vast
landscapes around us, each with its own dear casts of characters, for whom
the concept of future doesn’t exist, and to celebrate every
last morsel. Stay tuned!
nurseries trampled by swim fins; three or four vanloads of tourists
every hour murking once-crystalline water with sand (and
more, which would bring this poem down too far to ever rise again)—
nature is never spent: there lives the dearest freshness in this fusion of robin’s egg
blue and chartreuse, this jungle-and mangrove-fringed
scoop of sky that never stops crooning each new
magical morning into being; oh, it’s Genesis over and over again,
the weight on my shoulders
—what humans do to each other and to the world—lifting
each time I slip, before the crowds descend, into
this sun-blessed union of fresh and salt water
where once revolved a jubilation of fishes, a jeweled profusion,
symphonic silence blooming
in ever-declining numbers, a fact which my heart
has almost come to accept—here in the realm
of the Maya, Doomsday looming—because of a certain
refugium, whose location, deep down things, I shall never reveal:
a limestone maze of channels, whose praise I shall never
stop singing, my world-bruised spirit transported, transfused.
with gratitude to Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889, from whose poem
“God’s Grandeur” springs the title of this one, along with two more clusters of words
Ingrid Wendt (Eugene, OR) is the author of five books of poems and the co-editor of two anthologies: “From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry” and “In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts.” Recipient of the Oregon Book Award, the Yellowglen Award, and the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship, her work has several times been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac.” Her essays, poems, and reviews have appeared in Northwest Review, Transmotion, Poetry, Terrain, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Calyx, About Place, Cascadia, Cirque, Claw & Blossom, and Windfall. A classical pianist by training, she sings in the Eugene Concert Choir, which recently performed the Brahms Requiem at Carnegie Hall.