At the first cut the earth does not thank the blade. Is it rape then?—the bite of steel, its point incalculably harder than dirt, its mark the hiss of death, the metallic taste of sorrow. And what does the earth cry, its tangle of root a living shroud rent by force? Memory longs to preserve what has already grown. The furrow is wet with tears, brown heart exposed, underworld of worms and slugs prey to birds, dreamless of deep new roots, of shade: the palm tree of Deborah, towering crown of green.
The ravaging is not yet complete. Jeremiah’s voice rages against Yahweh’s violation, at first petulant and then violent in return. It has always been so. Sixty discs slice the remaining sod, merciless, efficient: vestiges of cover criss-crossed into oblivion. Blind stalks mourn the loss of the sun, overturned into darkness, food for the coming reign. There is a quiet loss, the peace of death— stillness in the wake of wrath.
The thunder god is always the god of heaven and of death. Rain and death both bring life, black earth signifying a bed, a womb for golden seeds dropped from the mouth of the god, for a cause not one’s own. Is there a more tender bliss than the sweet swelling, the burst seed? Tendril roots uncoil, the seedling unfurls— moon-pale shoots beneath green and gold. The seed takes possession, the violated earth sings, the rich strains reach heaven.
Her house was a three year old’s drawing of a house—two windows on the second floor with two below to flank the door. On the porch a pair of supermarket tube and webbing chairs in case a guest or two dropped by plus one where she could lean way back, a coverlet across her knees when fall was in the air or she felt ill.
The shades she always kept exactly so, the ones above just low enough to hide her on her way to bed, the ones below up high to let some daylight in. Now that the house is empty as a drum, they’re every whichway like an old drunk’s stare, and somebody’s pinched the supermarket chairs.
Sweet Jesus, forgive me all the days I spotted her in one of them and slunk behind the trees across the street. A caller on her porch for all to see she would have rated with her trip to England on a plane, or winning first prize for her grapenut pie, or the day that she retired from the Inn and they gave her a purple orchid on a pin.
Or having some boy ask her to dance, or being voted president of her class, or some spring morning with her room all warm and sunlit waking up in Spencer Tracy’s arms.
You’ve gone AWOL and only Jesus can bring you back, not this poem that I began with the lie that we can overhear your laughter, not hubris or tears and rain. You are an ocean who’s left the nest of earth I thought you’d promised not to. The sky who folded up your blue tent and took off.
What remained, they packed off to flame. Before the day we sat to make your legend in the church, I could almost feel your curious, dare- devil spirit peel itself from the wall of death like a cartoon character and bop out to explore. So tell me what you learned. Is it possible to breathe astral, heavenly air?
And tell me. Was it worth it?— all that sturm und drang you pitched against our brother Death who’d rather work in secret—swelling, hemorrhage, collision of blood cells, collusion over charts, snarled traffic of the body, roads under construction, accident, the rampage of doctors to prevent the clever kleptomaniac from winning as long as possible. He could only steal your body. Which I miss, it’s true, oh god, true. The screen door you banged every afternoon, now silent.
It was not meant as exclusionary, the way the boy laid his arm along the pew, not touching her back but cupping the bowl of his hand over the girl’s shoulder, exactly the way his father encircled his mother in decorous Sunday embrace.
Near in age and adoring, his forsaken younger sister saw the story of all Eve’s children, an enacted parable of man leaving father and mother to cling to wife, heard Scylla and Charybdis’ seductive hymn, felt the tension of two great loves, perceived in a piercing moment ties tighter than the bonds of blood.