Winner : Terrain.org 5th Annual Poetry Contest
Selected by Derek Sheffield

 

The Underworld is Alive
 

She said, and I mean alive. We drill through 400 million orbits of earth to sea lilies and squid that bloom like black ghosts, and we kill to get there. Of course life sleeps deep in earth’s heavy body. Of course the seams of life are seamless. Of course we have forgotten, our hunger. Our water bodies tilt, our tides wash through, our salty blood seeks sea. We have not forgotten, our hunger. We are the adults now, she says to my sleeping hands, the fish who quicken in my body’s rivers, the roads outside press against the giant warm turning of earth. One in four mammals will be gone, and their furred bodies, nipples, their warm breath gather in the corners. A tawny flank, an ear, a wet black eye. I think of the seals who watched us, bald round heads bobbing in the waves, the dark pools of their eyes following our every move. We were wrong about the underworld, we knew it would be this way, the waters gone from the leaves, the tongues, the rains, the tears. Not wasted, but taken.

after a talk by Sandra Steingraber

 

 

 

Click button above to play audio for this poem, or click here to download in .mp3 format.

“Emerging View”
 

written on the for sale signs scattered
and spreading up county road 8. Fall
in the conifers, a rusty glow sinks
then tags the mind, a thing
forgotten, the tug of
unraveling. The forest gives
itself up, a luminous
smear of exit—
aspens quilt a dizzy
yellow, and now this
blanket of dead lodgepole pine.
We can almost hear the strange
rhythm that brings those beetles,
thrums with weak music,
the fungus that follows their footsteps,
their marbled blue trails
polished like a map
on her kitchen floor. Still,
an old woman can rest here,
orchids in the boggy meadow,
chanterelles on the fire road,
a pine marten on the bird feeder
watches her watch him through
the window. Hungry moose furrow deep
trenches through snow banks
on the creek, which roars
into spring’s swarm. We look
through dead pine,
the snowy teeth of James peak
now visible, mountains
rise like the grieving that rolls
into this strange season,
wheeling towards us, nameless
on our animal tongues.

 

 

 

Poetry Judge Derek Sheffield says...
It is difficult to write well about the kind of loss associated with climate change, yet that is exactly what this poet has done. Instead of allowing didacticism to throttle lyricism, these poems speak with an authenticity and authority that comes from deft mingling of fact and the imaginative act. Grim irony and paradox riddle a sonic richness and the reality of the daily beauties of a world where “Still / an old woman can rest.” These poems are compelling and true to the wrenching complexity of our greatest challenge. Wilfred Owen was thinking of another kind of war when he wrote, “All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.” These poems call his words to mind, for nowadays
                      mountains
rise like the grieving that rolls
into this strange season,
wheeling towards us, nameless
on our animal tongues.

 

 

Anne Haven McDonnell lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and teaches English and sustainability courses as an assistant professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her poems have been published in Terrain.org and Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment.

Photo of squid at night by Elena Frolova, courtesy Shutterstock.

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One Response

  1. Malcolm Willison

    Spare but very emotionally charged, and grimly evocative of coming season’s and epoch’s end.

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