It’s like a city. Could be
Paris or New York, thriving,
full of restaurants and art and music.
Could be Detroit,
hollowed out and bankrupt.
Depends on the state of the economy.
And by economy I mean
the production, distribution or trade, and consumption
of limited goods and services
by different agents in a given geographical location
Soil’s fundamental unit of trade
is sugar, distributed
through the roots of plants
to the citizens of the city.
Now add chemical fertilizers.
tall and bright and yield
twice the grain, their future
seeded richly and likewise
their roots become
the greedy rich.
The rich have what they need,
and all the rest go hungry.
will fit in the period at the end of this sentence.
In a cup of soil, more bacteria
than humans that have ever lived.
In a cubic foot of soil:
320 miles of fungal hyphae,
silky threads that knit all together.
In industrialized soil, on big agribusiness farms:
dead minerals and weak roots
feeding on nitrogen like addicts on heroin.
In soil like this, without eternal chemical “inputs,”
sooner or later you get the dust bowl.
The dust bowl: black blizzards
of unanchored soil blowing
for years blowing
dirt-poor farmers away.
All hail the green revolution
that will feed the world forever
The world meaning humanity,
Wheat and corn and soybeans and rice,
straight up for the poor,
dressed in beef for the rich,
it doesn’t matter which,
everybody’s fed. Everybody’s children
And so we, our people, can increase
Surely that’s a good thing?
The soil speaks
I am threaded and highway’d
crumbled and aggregate
My pores are countless as the stars
My citizens eat sunlight
to the living
Without my teeming masses
the world chokes on its wastes
I am looking at a map of the city streets around me as I walk to my destination. [Anxious] Arrived, I am talking with a young man. He shows me plastic bins holding healthy soils. That is what they do in this place; they make soil. [Curious] He scoops out a handful. The dirt writhes with grubs. He says, you can eat these. Puts one in his mouth and chews. [Queasy] It is alive and wriggling when he eats it. About the size of a thumb. I wonder how it tastes. [Wake up]
Prayer, While We Yet Live
What syllable is seeking me tonight? Let me speak it.
What mountain lion waits to spring,
lay my entrails on gold summer grass?
What ground squirrel pipes its alarm cry
and hides in the dark of my body?
Some apocalyptic vision:
hands cupping soil fine as powder.
It drains through the fingers, lifeless, and dust
rising all around blackens the sun.
While we yet live
give us song
let our voices name the world
Let the sweetness rise in the bark of the Jeffrey pine
Let the wildflowers bloom under ski lifts in spring, blue and yellow and white
Let the snows fall and water mountain meadows
Let golden eagles float on warm currents above the valleys, let their sharp
eyes find prey
Let us tune our minds to the pitch of praise
Let our grief teach us that everything sorrows
Let the good farmers feed the land and show it tenderness
Let there be places for all the children of earth
Driving North on 101: Prayer for All Beings
Alive her glittering eye
Worker bent over this month’s crop
His flashing knife
Paul Simon sings to us
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake
Utility pole with hawk as capital
Low late sun polishing his breast
Before we are scraps on the highway
bones in the earth
I pray for all one
moment one shining moment
Christine Holland Cummings lives in Menlo Park, California with her husband and dog. When she’s not writing or enjoying the native plant garden in her back yard, she’s working at her marketing job in Silicon Valley. Christine has an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars and her poems have appeared in Bellowing Ark, Blueline, Hamilton Stone Review, Manzanita Quarterly, The Sand Hill Review, and Blue Arc, an anthology of California poets from Tebot Bach Press.