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Noon Edition

Dreams of Perennial Wheat

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"The Earth, neither compassionate nor evil, neither beautiful nor atrocious, persisted, innocent, open to pain and desire." (Czeslaw Milosz)

Alex Chambers teaches audio storytelling at the IU Media School and is an organizing fellow with We Own It, where he is working to re-energize democratic participation in rural electric co-ops. His poetry book, Binding: A Preparation, was released by Pickpocket Books and Ledge Mule Press in 2019. His next book project is based on his dissertation, Climate Violence and the Poetics of Refuge.

Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Alex, what poems have you brought us?

Dreams of Perennial Wheat

 

When every morning

years in and out

you get up

to tinker

with what some call

God’s handiwork,

reaching maybe

into the soil’s gene soup—

that muddy wetness

from which almost

everything alive comes—

or pouring with a tiny

scoop the anthers’

yellow dust

into the florets

of a similar plant

whose own anthers

have been snipped off

into pollen-ready teacups,

not knowing exactly

when the roots

and the roothairs hidden

deep in the dark

and deeper will shoot

lightward, will spring up

yearly, finally,

and not only re-spring

but grow heavy,

gravid, almost,

with seeds

starch-swollen,

unshatterable till

a mill

turns to powder

what the grass

no longer needs,

surplus transformed

by plant and hand

from soil to hot bread—

when your work

is attention,

a tending,

you might

having spent your years

on a project unfinishable

in your body’s lifetime,

in that place

the plow broke once,

find, finally,

that the ground,

as it does,

has begun

to become you.

 

Wrought

 

Kansas, ’36. No snow. Gauges show a lack of rain

in counties full of prayer and a little sweat

from citizens still hacking at the ground, their knuckles

cracked and raw in the blistering economy.

In the dust-storm night the bent men sit

around a table, refusing to hope out loud,

 

as if the air might hear their hope and in a loud

and swirling wind, a freight train of sound and a rain

of sterile seeds, sweep it east into buckets that sit

on Wall Street, wooden, almost full. The glasses barely sweat,

even filled with ice. Dust the color of pennies

settles on their drinks. Ripples form from knuckles

 

that rap the table as if only swollen knuckles,

not words or work, could make up for the loud

productive ’20s when they plowed their money

into soil, populated a state where the rain

looked good and there was plenty of land for their pious sweat.

In the evenings, they say, these strong laconic men sat

 

watching the weave of grain, full of satisfaction

with what they’d wrought: knuckle-

sized kernels from a plow and a drop of sweat.

The Kansas fathers knew creation was a loud

and lasting assumption. But who can resist grabbing the reins

and harrowing if you’re certain of the land’s liquidity?

 

The wind arrived. It blew what currency

was left across the plains. The aging sons just sat

on their tractors watching a storm that had no rain.

Now dirt is seeping under doors. Their knuckles

ache from years of seeding wheat with loud

new machines and the faith they had in sweat.

 

Looking back, it clearly wasn’t sweat.

Still, they never say economy.

They never say a word of blame out loud.

The five men silently decide to sit,

wait out the dust, maybe crack a knuckle.

As if their drive to shape had stopped the rain.

 

The youngest speaks out loud. I just can’t sit

(he dabs at sweat) and watch our economy knuckle

under. And walks into dust that feels like rain.

Field of wheat.

Wheat field. (Bruno Glätsch, Pixabay)

"The Earth, neither compassionate nor evil, neither beautiful nor atrocious, persisted, innocent, open to pain and desire."
-Czeslaw Milosz

Alex Chambers teaches audio storytelling at the IU Media School and is an organizing fellow with We Own It, where he is working to re-energize democratic participation in rural electric co-ops. His poetry book, Binding: A Preparation, was released by Pickpocket Books and Ledge Mule Press in 2019. His next book project is based on his dissertation, Climate Violence and the Poetics of Refuge.

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