Black Earth

Openly, yes,
with the naturalness
                 of the hippopotamus or the alligator
                 when it climbs out on the bank to experience the

sun, I do these
things which I do, which please
                 no one but myself. Now I breathe and now I am sub-
                 merged; the blemishes stand up and shout when the object

in view was a
renaissance; shall I say
                 the contrary? The sediment of the river which
                 encrusts my joints, makes me very gray but I am used

to it, it may
remain there; do away
                 with it and I am myself done away with, for the
                 patina of circumstance can but enrich what was

there to begin
with. This elephant skin
                 which I inhabit, fibered over like the shell of
                 the coco-nut, this piece of black glass through which no light

can filter—cut
into checkers by rut
                 upon rut of unpreventable experience—
                 it is a manual for the peanut-tongued and the

hairy toed. Black
but beautiful, my back
                 is full of the history of power. Of power? What
                 is powerful and what is not? My soul shall never

be cut into
by a wooden spear; through-
                 out childhood to the present time, the unity of
                 life and death has been expressed by the circumference

described by my
trunk; nevertheless, I
                 perceive feats of strength to be inexplicable after
                 all; and I am on my guard; external poise, it

has its centre
well nurtured—we know
                 where—in pride, but spiritual poise, it has its centre where?
                 My ears are sensitized to more than the sound of

the wind. I see
and I hear, unlike the
                 wandlike body of which one hears so much, which was made
                 to see and not to see; to hear and not to hear,

that tree trunk without   
roots, accustomed to shout
                 its own thoughts to itself like a shell, maintained intact   
                 by who knows what strange pressure of the atmosphere; that   

brother to the coral
                 plant, absorbed into which, the equable sapphire light
                 becomes a nebulous green. The I of each is to

the I of each,
a kind of fretful speech
                 which sets a limit on itself; the elephant is?
                 Black earth preceded by a tendril? It is to that

the above formation,   
                 translucent like the atmosphere—a cortex merely—
                 that on which darts cannot strike decisively the first

time, a substance
needful as an instance
                 of the indestructibility of matter; it   
                 has looked at the electricity and at the earth-

quake and is still
here; the name means thick. Will
                 depth be depth, thick skin be thick, to one who can see no
                 beautiful element of unreason under it?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.