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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

Holly Kelso


for Michelle Mitchell-Faust


My first English professor died of heartbreak

a few weeks before the world began dying,

exponentially, when you could still gather

at a graveside to mourn, when the dead weren’t buried remotely,

telemonitors bringing them into the room

where you sit surrounded by the everydayness of life–

water glasses, candlesticks, bananas browning.

She taught us about everything that poetry and science

have in common– two halves of the same fruit–

solar eclipses and migraine headaches, even mental illness

was more metaphor than fact, containing something of magic.

That year I was 17, at a college for women,

I heard for the first time about Darfur, Sierra Leone,

Sudan, the way the women and girls are raped when they go for water,

how they negotiate that danger with their fathers and husbands:

the probability of her rape, the likelihood of his murder,

setting out for something as innocuous as water.

This comes back to me, thirty years later,

we have been at home for three weeks,

we’ll be here that much more, and longer,

and you offer to go into the city, not for water

but for meat and bread– you’ll shop for my parents, even,

who have asked for dark coffee, coastal cheese, mixed nuts, chicken–

in mask and gloves you’ll queue outside the store at dawn

and I’ll wait at home for you, watching the sun come up over the desert,

I won’t be able to stop thinking about the poetry in this,

I won’t stop imagining a tribe of people,

brightly dressed and singing as they come

not through the Sahara but the Mojave, not along the Nile

but around the bends in our lake, half full of water, until

they arrive at my home and I feed them with our bounty.


A thrush of Lady Banks roses

burgeons in the corner of the flowerbed

beneath the kitchen window, overgrown

in a part of the yard we rarely travel.

It blooms, wildly and unabashed,

a woman in her prime who has stopped worrying so much

for the niceties of a younger age,

sprawling and spreading where it has rooted

beneath the rosemary, shaded and sure-footed in soil,

branches like hair that has been loosed, and long,

restraint abandoned. We cut some for the kitchen

when we can no longer shop for more delicate flowers,

the length of its long arms– yellow and white budded–

fill the window with light and scent, it knows

its strong beauty is something indigenous here.


My daughter’s breasts

have come in overnight, it seems,

the youngest, the one who waited

so patiently for this to happen,

the one for whom things came last:

words, steps, my breast, and now her own,

which have swelled in the first few days

of the quarantine, when we’ve shied away

from hugging and holding close.

We’ve walked down to the lake each day,

stopping to scramble up hills, we’ve stood atop rocks

and taken in the view: the desert in bloom.

Tomorrow I’ll take a hand shovel and a bag,

I’ll dig up a brittlebush, a young one-

soft green leaves like the ears of a small animal,

and the stems that rise out of it, plentiful and strong,

long and sturdy like the limbs of a young woman

coming into her own- I’ll transplant it in my yard,

this thing of beauty and resilience,

something that will bloom, magnificently in this spring rain,

whether or not we are here to see it.


Holly Kelso is a career educator, and has made the language and literacy of children and adults her focus for twenty-four years. An English Literature major from Stephens College, her writing appears in a variety of literary journals and publications. Holly resides in Boulder City, Nevada, the town that built Hoover Dam, where she teaches reading to middle school students.

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