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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

Ingrid Wendt


What We See and Don’t See

It wasn’t only the unpredictable falling, leaning

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.


Ars Poetica

You ask what I’m doing, so far from home. And what

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!


And for all this

—skin of Yal-Ku Lagoon rainbowed with sunblock; limestone shelf

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

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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.

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