Please help the Black Earth Institute continue to make art and grow community so needed for our time. Donate now »

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

Section One Earth

Elizabeth Burk


I’ve always needed green to heal my heart
from the burnt asphalt of city sidewalks
where I prowled, city girl, until I discovered
where spirit blossoms best. When my lover
chopped down the trees in our yard, I left
our Louisiana house. The massive oak
hunkering in the middle of the lawn
with its twisted roots tunneling beneath
the house, uprooting rusty pipes—did
that dowager really have to come down?
I missed the leafy arms of the piney cedars
he thought unsightly, said the branches
would surely crash through the roof
in a hurricane. I’d rather replace tile
than chop down a tree. Then he cut away
the asparagus green barrier bushes,
jungle jade foliage hugging the side
of the house—moss, olive, teal,
leaving me exposed on that sterile street,
surrounded by neighbors’ manicured
gardens, overly-tended flower beds.
I wanted to worship under tea-leaf towers,
celadon umbrellas, sacred places to pray,
I wanted banana trees with bottle green leaves,
lush, tropical, jockeying for space, I wanted
clump bamboo, shooting up, multiplying,
camouflaging our wire-mesh fence, bending over
to whisper to me on my backyard stoop
where I sat, toes furled in velvety St. Augustine
grass. I wanted fern, myrtle, laurel and malachite
the color of walrus tears on a rocky shore
in Maine, where I will go now to live amidst
coastal rocks covered with barnacles and moss.
And is it the rain
that disrupts, spilling
over bayous, coulees,
canals, brown despite
the great expanse
of blue sky above?
Clouds stand in for
mountains above plains
of marshy grasses
some call the prairie—
droughts dry the grass
to dust, stiff as straw
before floods muddy
the earth again, leaving
strips of land where
tin shacks and trailers
float between plantations
surrounded by banana
trees, hibiscus, roots
drowning in water
everywhere. Knobby
cypress knees poke
through rivers, pirogues
drift, break the surface
where mirrored limbs
hanging heavy with
slippery moss, float
like ancestral ghosts,
the rain mere drops
spilling over the edge
of an endlessly soaked
landscape where natives
merge with their mystical
watery terrain, source
of sustenance, spiritual,
practical, building and
re-building, grieving
their losses, raising
high their houses
and hopes to remain
forever connected.
Elizabeth Burk is a psychologist who divides her time between a practice in New York and a husband in southwest Louisiana. Her chapbook Learning to Love Louisiana was recently published by Yellow Flag Press. Her work has appeared in Rattle, Calyx, Atlanta Review, South Carolina Review, Spillway, Wisconsin Review, The Southern Poetry Journal, Vol. IV, La., and various other journals and anthologies, and has been read and performed in various venues in Louisiana and New York.





©2024 Black Earth Institute. All rights reserved.  |  ISSN# 2327-784X  |  Site Admin