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

Derek Sheffield


What Happens

Once dandelions were tests of loving.

When he picked one, he twirled it

to a friend’s chin and she to his.

Always gold dabbed them both

butter lovers. Any pale fluffs

of seed that floated by

they caged in fingers

and sent breath and wants into

before opening their hands

to watch them dwindle

down the wind, the years.

 

Up through every lawn,

they rise again, hers,

where she bends to pick

each white globe by its stem

and carry it as carefully

as wedding crystal to the trash,

 

while he strides across his

in time with his neighbors,

cranking out white, semicircle sprays

of chemical-smelling granules.

 

Back and forth they go, breathing

the ghosts of their wishes.


Her Yarn

For all those blasting by at sixty-something
on that two-lane to Scio, she’d have been

a chance look to the left as their chrome
flashed—slight, gray-haired woman

sitting in the front window of a small house,
head bowed to the pattern

she was winding her yarn through. On one side,
a box her caregivers kept dropping

spools of all colors into, and on the other, another
filling for twelve years with doilies. No longer able

to sow her garden with rows of corn and beans,
all through her nineties, every day but Sabbath,

there she sat, sometimes getting a honk
and wave. Any who stopped left with stacks

of doilies balanced in their arms to keep
and to pass on to friends or neighbors.

No one asked her to make them,
nor did anyone ever say, Love that much,

like light greened by leaves and streams
interlaced, Love. Any in need, which was all,

always, she took into her wiry arms
and squeezed. I just love you so much!

She had no curses to give for a life of working
fuel pumps and fields, raising her two

red-haired boys, or even the time Charlie in a tractor
loaded with carrots backed over her foot.

No one knows how many doilies she made.
As long as breath moved blood and bone,

she wove the way she prayed. From Marion
to Harrisburg, there must be thousands

stuffed into cupboards. From one person
to the next, into hospice homes and through

churches, they made their way around the world,
one even pinned to a wall in Turkey, says Loyd.

Of the many I have, I’ve never put one to use
to hold a hot plate or vase, like this one,

this bicolored hexagon of triangles
making green and violet stars in my hands.

Of all the strands my great aunt left, I’m one
who can’t build or wire the way my cousins can.

I remember, though, resting my hand
on her head as she sits in rainy light, threading

my fingers through her hair like mist
as wisps of her grace thread through this.

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Derek Sheffield’s collection, Not for Luck (MSU Press, 2021), was chosen by Mark Doty for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. His other books include Through the Second Skin (Orchises Press, 2013), finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and A Revised Account of the West, winner of the Hazel Lipa Environmental Chapbook Award. He is coeditor of Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy (Trinity, 2020). His awards include fellowships from Artist Trust and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the James Hearst Poetry Prize judged by Li-Young Lee. Derek lives with his family on the east slopes of the Cascades in Washington State and is the poetry editor of Terrain.org.



Other works by Derek Sheffield

  • Infinite Country October 2019

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