Apostrophe to the Soil

(7-8 January 1995) after George Gordon Byron

I raise my arm in the pathless woods and as my heels sink in the loam spider webs drift into the dark and wet leaves brush across my face. I am baptized by the ministers of soil. The cares of tradition and career, the obligations of family and friends, praise, pleasure, insult, guilt, diminish and disappear. Oh master of the vegetable kingdom, you are powerless to hold against the river, but in your time and spaces nothing can withstand your slow digestion or surpass your generative riches. We wash our hands but you remain in the lines of our knuckles and under the nails. We cannot be rid of your sweet smell; it oozes from our pores with each exertion like blood from an open wound. Only the land-lost whale and fish are free from you; the sailor, tossed upon clean waters, longs for you; the rest of us eat the fruits of your munificence. We step upon you and drag you to our doorsteps, suck holes in your muck, snort and root in you, dig, run, crawl, creep, toil, grovel, grope, leap, and fall on you, build and destroy our homes on you. No matter how we wish to rise above you, you are the hearth that we come home to. Every profusion competes for your favors among undiscovered trees and flowers, among groomed fields and pastures, gardens, paddies, farms, forests, and marshes. Leaves fall under trees to protect you, molds break down the walls of cells to feed your hungry disciples, white roots reach into your gritty accretions to hold you on the bank against rushing waters, and break up rock to deepen your foundation. Charity, love, and hope—you are all three, for you give without depletion, forgive without restitution, and love without reciprocation, but you receive all we give, repay more than we ask, and nurture our dreams in seeds that reveal the miracle of life. I slip and become part of you, lost in your architecture of hidden spaces, indulgent in your interstitial chambers, joining the worms and mites, microbes and bacteria, fungi and molds, sharing their brave dominion until my clothes fall off my limbs, my flesh rots, and my bones dissolve and are dispersed by seeping water.