now there is brown earth under my fingernails

As we wrap up National Poetry Month, here is my second to last (one more tomorrow!) poem, a sensual celebration of spring, of our love of the earth and for each another by the one and only Audre Lorde (1934-1992).

illustration of a tomato
Art by Kristina Closs

“Sowing”

It is the sink of the afternoon
the children asleep or weary.
I have finished planting the tomatoes
in this brief sun after four days of rain
now there is brown earth under my fingernails
And sun full on my skin
with my head thick as honey
the tips of my fingers are stinging
from the rich earth
but more so from the lack of your body
I have been to this place before
where blood seething commanded
my fingers fresh from the earth
dream of plowing a furrow
whose name should be you.

from The Selected Works of Audre Lorde

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Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof

I first encountered Audre Lorde (1934-1992) through her mighty and courageous account of her experience with breast cancer, The Cancer Journals. I’m not sure why I waited five years to start reading her poetry, but I’m glad I did. This warrior sure can sing.

“Movement Song”

I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
without goodbyes.

Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
and now
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into desire
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
conceiving decision.
Do not remember me
as disaster
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
watching
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
only ourselves.

from From a Land Where Other People Live.

Join me for National Poetry Month

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Dear readers,

I have always believed that poetry has a place in our daily lives, that it should have a strong presence beyond our high school English class  or the often-confined literary subculture where it seems to thrive. Although my day often seem saturated with texts and tweets, stacks of periodicals and overflowing RSS feeds, it is poetry I turn to at all hours, for every occasion, to “give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” It is the images and lyricism, the language and the details of poems that help me mediate this baffling and broken and beautiful world.

One of the greatest pleasures in my reading of poetry is sharing works that resonate with me. And so I invite you to slow down for a few minutes whenever you can this month and read a poem–or 30. As I’ve done for the last three years, I will be posting a poem by a different writer each day. Except for this once, there will be no rambling discussion, just unadulterated verse.

Toward the end of his life, the formidable poet, physician, and red wheelbarrow driver William Carlos Williams wrote a long, meditative poem , “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” for his wife. I will spare you the longer excerpt (though I urge you to click and read) because I’ve already talked too much today, but I will leave you with the last few lines because they encompass, in less words and more beautiful language, why I believe poetry is vital to our lives.

My heart rouses
		thinking to bring you news
				of something
that concerns you
		and concerns many men.  Look at
				what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
		despised poems.
				It is difficult
to get the news from poems
		yet men die miserably every day
				for lack
of what is found there.
		Hear me out
				for I too am concerned
and every man
		who wants to die at peace in his bed
				besides.