Greeting Earth Day With a Cento — Carol Was

a drift of disorder in the air
like a tuba player in a house on fire.
It’s always been that way,
part of the social contract to seem to be where your body is,
jazzy arrhythmia… plosive and gorgeous.

My brain has…its specks of grandeur,
my mind’s a mad cupboard,
volts that bump in the heart like small trapped minnows of longing
stitching desires with invisible thread,
breathless pivots of their swoops and dives, their soaring.

Few in the world would know my mind,
nothing but a harmless mumbler of words.
I become part of the landscape
submerged in my thoughts,
that place hidden and within.

Give me a new mouth, I want to talk–
the firm muscle of a rainbow trout speaks to the river’s mind,
hammered copper carp rising,
that loud teakettle banging high in the canopy … steamy song of woodpecker love,
crickets spread static…a continuous rope of sound
scrawling their jittery speech on the sky’s pale page.

It could be spring beyond our understanding.
Whatever it is catches my heart in its hands,
snow falling on the age of reason… on the age of sensibility,
a shiver of the unexpected
knowing more than seeing
between the no-longer and the still-to-come.

Nothing of solemnity or sadness. Only the pulse.
And it says, I, too, am a traveler.
It is all the fullness that there is.
Honor it, touch it with awe.
I have opened my eyes and not known where I was.

Every day comes to you naked,
raises a tiny fist, screams the world into profusion,
black earth nearly steaming.
The earth wants to make music.
Pears are little hymns singing after you.
Bugs have spent the morning composing sonatas.

I love the sweet silence of hay as it cures…the labor too,
flowers beating like time bombs in the soil.
How beautiful is the dirt I took for granted.
Each rock electric as a brain,
even the gravel has been buzzing.

We need this rephrasing of air,
respite from the burden of ceaseless thought,
from the dance of electrons to the growth of trees
on the hillside of bramble and burr
shining now in the great breath of things and night coming.

Come sway…in the dark.
Bless your skin, the sweet rind through which you breathe,
lie down in a pool of moonlight,
the promise beginning like the moan of the wind, the moving water.
Strip the bark from birches…build a coffin for our fears.
No wood is ever dead even if it’s gone to fire and risen as heat.

Night rises out of the river.
The river rises into the valley bruising the fields,
stitches of want nobody can mend,
cracking hard-shelled consonants like speckled insects between your teeth.
Blessed are we who cannot know what will come to us.
Follow the unseen path error makes.

Long ago yesterday was everything to me.
It cracked like a Chinese flute in the middle of its beautiful playing,
no end to the slow unraveling
everywhere…the windfall, sweet and shadowy on summer grass: stems,
filaments, umbilical’s broken free.

And who’s to say those are not the perfect conditions
for something complex, crisp, clear,
ripe as the smell of wild pears on the road.
Imagine breathing surrounded by the brilliant rinse of summer’s firmament,
the fuchsia-blue flare of fireweed.

Flavors melt like soup–
soup of twigs and stones…it’s almost edible
green soup of a green soul.
On my knees in ordinary dirt.
Have you never wanted to waltz the hills like a beast?

I’d anticipate the magic sweetness of…fruit on our tongues,
scoop up a handful of soil, taste its grain, its warmth feeding my hunger.
For we are of the earth, of loam, sand, silt, clay.
Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself
braided like rope…tangled as Medusa?

Sometimes we are most ourselves when we are least.
I’ve gone between the rocks and the tree roots,
toward the single twitch-sluff of ground leaf where the red newt slides.
Is it important to understand the path?
I learn by going where I have to go.

I tell you…the ridges of a shell press home its signature,
the afternoon light is the texture of language,
pen skimming across the page.
Who will know that once words were possibilities and disappointments
with invisible footnotes,
the spiraled arc of imprint not just an encounter but memory.

Who can speak for the past,
decipher the grammar of crows,
each line erasing itself from the paper?
Let our bones quench the thirst of history–
cool water rinsing away flecks of our ancestors,

those moments inside us we don’t for years comprehend.
Words … pleading with me, urging me to follow.
Perhaps I could write meditations, under a rock in a shower
as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves.

End Notes for Cento
1. Stephen Dunn, “Honesty”
2. Tess Gallagher, “The Poem is a Time Machine”
3. Pattiann Rogers, “The Dead Never Fight Against Anything”
4. Stephen Dunn, “At the Restaurant”
5. Michael Waters, “White Stork’
6. C. McAllister Williams, “Universal Design”
7. Deborah Bogen, “Ghost Images”
8. Albert Goldbarth, “October’
9. Jennifer Maler, “Meditation from 14 A”
10. Terry Blackhawk, “Marriage Poem”
11. Sun-Ill Lee, “On a Rainy Autumn Night”
12. Mary Oliver, “Thinking of Swirler”
13. Mary Jo Firth Gillett, “Holding”
14. Cindy Frenkel, “Miracles”
15. David Budbill, “Winter is the Best Time”
16. Stephen Dunn, “A New Mouth”
17. James Langer, “The Scythe”
18. Mark Doty, “Chanteuse”
19. Mark Seth Lender, Salt Marsh Diary
20. Lisel Mueller, “Losing My Sight”
21. Emily Warn, “Seeding the Alphabet”
22. Deborah Digges, “Circadian Rhythms”
23. Robinson Jeffers, “Helenistics”
24. Robert Haas, “Monticello”
25. Carolyn Forché, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness
26. Mark Doty, “Night Ferry”
27. Carolyn Forché, “Curfew”
28. Mary Jo Firth Gillett, “Florida National Cemetery”
29. Christopher Howell, “Listen”
30. Robert Haas, “Child Naming Flowers”
31. Virginia Hamilton Adair, “Godstone”
32. Carolyn Forché, “Blue Hour”
33. Sharron Singleton, “2500 Nebulae”
34. Anita Skeen, “What the Seed Knows”
35. Mark Doty, “Source”
36. David Wagoner, “Elegy on the First Day of Spring”
37. Rebecca Rank, “Pears in a Porcelain Bowl”
38. C. McAllister Williams, “Landscape with Alchemist”
39. Fred Marchant, “Ard no Maria”
40. Monica Ferrell, “As the Eyelid Protects the Eye”
41. Marge Piercy, “February Ground”
42. Rigoberto Gonzalez, “Thinking Stones”
43. Rigoberto Gonzalez, “Thinking Stones’
44. Eavan Boland, “On the Gift of The Birds of America by John James Audubon”
45. Scott Russell Sanders, A Mind in the Forest
46. Scott Russell Sanders, A Mind in the Forest
47. David Baker, “Romanticism”
48. Eamon Grennan, “Painter’s Diary”
49. Barbara Crooker, “Eggplants”
50. Lisel Mueller, “In Praise of Surfaces”
51. Michael Delp, “In the Nethers”
52. Geraldine Connelly, “Mourners”
53. Natasha Sajé, “Heliose to Abelard”
54. Claudia Emerson, “Stringed Instrument Collection”
55. Monica Ferrell, Beasts of the Chase
56. Paul Zimmer, “Civil War”
57. Tom Sleigh, “For Benny Andrews”
58. Sandra Alcosser, “What Makes the Grizzlies Dance”
59. Marge Piercy, “Photograph of my Mother Sitting on the Steps”
60. Leslie St. John, “Spring Fest Woodcarving”
61. Bruce Bond, “The Return”
62. An Shi Min, “The Last Empress”
63. Lisel Mueller, “Reader”
64. Rebecca Rank, “Pears in a Porcelain Bowl”
65. Rebecca Rank, “Pears in a Porcelain Bowl”
66. Marilyn Ringer, “It is Time to Make New Wine”
67. Marilyn Ringer, “It is Time to Make New Wine”
68. Conrad Hilberry, “The Good Grief”
69. Mark Doty, “A Green Crab’s Shell”
70. Alison Swan, “Succession”
71. Natasha Saje’, “Tongues”
72. Sophia Rivkin, “Dirt Soup”
73. Sophia Rivkin, “Dirt Soup”
74. Jan Worth-Nelson, “Ordinary Dirt”
75. Sandra Alcosser, “What Makes the Grizzlies Dance”
76. Rebecca Rank, “First Tomatoes”
77. Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, “Something of Myself”
78. Mary Jo Firth Gillett, “Terrestrial”
79. Henry David Thoreau, Walden
80. David Baker, “Romanticism”
81. David Baker, “Forced Bloom”
82. Richard Lyons, “Cousins of the Heart”
83. Pattiann Rogers, “This Day, Tomorrow, and the Next”
84. Christine Rhein, “Outdoor Poetry Reading”
85. Theodore Roethke, “The Waking’
86. Mary Jo Firth Gillett, “Lightening Bugs”
87. Rachel Eliza Griffiths, “Perdre”
88. Susan Wood, “My Grandmother’s Poems”
89. Eaven Boland, “What We Lost”
90. Nick Laird, “Last Order”
91. Mary Jo Firth Gillett, “Lightening Bugs”
92. Natasha Sajé, “Between the Lines”
93. Emily Warn, “Seeding an Alphabet”
94. Sophia Rivkin, “Doll House Painting”
95. Peggy Shumaker, “Gnawed Bones”
96. Peggy Shumaker, “Rinsing That Tomato”
97. Peggy Shumaker, “Swallows”
98. Eaven Boland, “The Oral Tradition”
99. Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1857
100. Mary Oliver, “The Winter Wood Arrives”


Carol Was is Poetry Editor for The MacGuffin. Her work has appeared in The Connecticut Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and others.