a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
My grandma doesn’t believe in hills. I mean: she lived for ninety years on the vast flat of an ancient riverbed in northwestern Minnesota and she does not take kindly to the topography of south-central Wisconsin. Once she pointed to a car on the steep slant of driveway, at a significant angle, shook her head and declared, “no one should have to park like that in a democracy.”
She grew in that rich black soil for close to a century and transplants are never easy. She has a loyalty to that place, that land, those towns, that dark earth planted with soybeans and corn and sugar beets like some have a loyalty to flags or creeds or political parties. I can’t fathom what that feels like.
This is where I come from: I am from the yoga studio between Central and Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I wept on my mat when I realized I was in love. I am from the chaos and heat of July rush hour in midtown Manhattan. I am from concrete rooms filled with cribs at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Port-au-Prince. I am from the pounding surf of Poneloya, its hot white sands skittering with crabs. I am from the ranchos and casitas of San Jose de Cusmapa where I spent hours holding babies, drinking sweet coffee and talking about the weather. I am from smoking San Cristobal, the hazy purple Blue Ridge, the Pyrenees of Southern France, Huayna Picchu which I climbed in the rain. I am from the plains of Midwestern prairies, the riot of life in hot, flat, dense Amazon. I am from the graffiti on the walls in Belfast and Esteli and Rome and Guadalajara. I am from the mosque in Meknes, the Holy Week street processions of Leon and Granada, the cathedrals of Italy and Spain and El Salvador, the crypt chapel at St Ignatius in Chestnut Hill. I am from the trailer parks tucked away behind interstate exits where Mexican immigrants sleep five to a bedroom, watch soccer, listen to ranchera and eat tamales. I am from homeless shelters and soup kitchens, hospitals and detention centers, board rooms and dormitories. I am from the wide Mississippi, from Moorman’s Creek, from Lake Mendota where you can watch July 4th fireworks from a fishing boat. I am from the Art Institute of Chicago’s impressionist collection. I am from a village in Albemarle County where peace comes dropping slow. I am from Central Wisconsin’s paper mill factories, from Green Bay Packer-land, from beer cheese soup and bratwurst at a Brewers’ game. I am from San Francisco’s Mission District at Halloween, the streets filled with pagans and party-goers. I am from Managua’s congested streets, locked gates, radios blaring reggaeton, nightclubs which close after dawn. I am from the rainy streets of Normandy, the ruins of William the Conqueror’s castle, the chilly, choppy Atlantic under the slate gray sky of Deauville-sur-mer. I am from Hawaii’s volcanic earth, from her dark sand beaches. I am from Virginia’s enormous June magnolia blossoms, bougainvillea outside the petite maison in Caen, the white lily of the valley my father planted in the front yard of the house where I grew up.
If my grandmother clicked her heels together three times, closed her eyes, and said “there’s no place like home,” she knows exactly where she’d be. This geographical polyamory can bring the sensation of not belonging anywhere, or of abiding everywhere. St Therese prayed to God, “Your face is my only homeland.” Standing here, now, my feet on this earth, I say “amen.”
Rhonda Miska is a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister based in the driftless area of rural Southwest Wisconsin but currently serves as an instructor and university minister at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. For over 800 years, men and women in the Dominican family (Order of Preachers) have committed to continual conversion and pursuit truth through lives of prayer, community, study, and ministry. Sr Rhonda’s writing has appeared in America Magazine, the Sun Magazine, US Catholic Magazine, Global Sisters Report, and Presence: a Journal of Catholic Poetry, as well as in the following books: Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press, 2015) and Pope Francis Lexicon (Liturgical Press, 2018). Sr Rhonda has studied at the University of Wisconsin, the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, and the Aquinas Institute of Theology, though her greatest teachers have proven to be those she has accompanied in ministry – especially migrants and refugees.