This mound of dirt and the summer are heirs to transfer from what lies before and what lies behind, pinch by pinch. Of the mound, she keeps a record. The point, the students have been assured, is not to find objects. Their object is to understand the ground. What water did with it, when. how often earthworms combed and cast it. Whether it was tilled or thrust aside, which seeds lay in it, which pollens settled. When it's too dark to dig, she makes a tent of reading assignments. A chapter on similarities between spear points unearthed in Virginia and Soultrean points in Spain, both kinds wrought as though for beauty and cached in heaps of red ocher. Another book invites her to peer at the keyhole shape of a bone the size of her index finger, engraved these ten thousand years with forty strokes-- fourteen, eight, eleven, then seven--and polished. A tally, a game, the score? We'll never know. And here's a review of arguments about a broken rock that might have been bashed into useful shape deliberately, with another rock, by some original axe-making biped, or might be a geofact, a tease, a found axe--or no tool at all. She douses the light and all the words disappear. Morning, back to the mound. It's two mounds now; she knows it halfway through, its wayward layers, silky and barren or matted with nutrients, heavy clay, a thousand shades of brown. She sees it with her eyes shut, with her palms, sometimes tastes it. Leaves the flints and bones to thrill-seekers and visionaries. Dirt answers her questions. She has dug past any props or plots or characters to the stuff all stories walk on
From Mount Clutter by Sarah Lindsay, published by Grove/Atlantic. Copyright © 2003 by Sarah Lindsay. Reprinted by permission of Grove/Atlantic. All rights reserved.
On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell, a tangled ditch grown up throughout with a fearsome assortment of wildflowers and bracken. There is no fence, though here and there a weathered post asserts a former claim, strands of fallen wire taken by the dust. To the left a cornfield carries into the distance, dips and rises to the blue sky, a rolling plain of green and healthy plants aligned in close order, row upon row upon row. To the right, a field of wheat, a field of hay, young grasses breaking the soil, filling their allotted land with the rich, slow-waving spectacle of their grain. As for the farmers, they are, for the most part, indistinguishable: here the tractor is red, there yellow; here a pair of dirty hands, there a pair of dirty hands. They are cultivators of the soil. They grow crops by pattern, by acre, by foresight, by habit. What corn is to one, wheat is to the other, and though to some eyes the similarities outweigh the differences it would be as unthinkable for the second to commence planting corn as for the first to switch over to wheat. What happens in the gully between them is no concern of theirs, they say, so long as the plough stays out, the weeds stay in the ditch where they belong, though anyone would notice the wind-sewn cornstalks poking up their shaggy ears like young lovers run off into the bushes, and the kinship of these wild grasses with those the farmer cultivates is too obvious to mention, sage and dun-colored stalks hanging their noble heads, hoarding exotic burrs and seeds, and yet it is neither corn nor wheat that truly flourishes there, nor some jackalopian hybrid of the two. What grows in that place is possessed of a beauty all its own, ramshackle and unexpected, even in winter, when the wind hangs icicles from the skeletons of briars and small tracks cross the snow in search of forgotten grain; in the spring the little trickle of water swells to welcome frogs and minnows, a muskrat, a family of turtles, nesting doves in the verdant grass; in summer it is a thoroughfare for raccoons and opossums, field mice, swallows and black birds, migrating egrets, a passing fox; in autumn the geese avoid its abundance, seeking out windrows of toppled stalks, fatter grain more quickly discerned, more easily digested. Of those that travel the local road, few pay that fertile hollow any mind, even those with an eye for what blossoms, vetch and timothy, early forsythia, the fatted calf in the fallow field, the rabbit running for cover, the hawk's descent from the lightning-struck tree. You've passed this way yourself many times, and can tell me, if you would, do the formal fields end where the valley begins, or does everything that surrounds us emerge from its embrace?
From No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets, edited by Ray Gonzalez. Copyright © 2003 by Campbell McGrath. Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.