Compost… manure… excrement… “the ‘s’ word” …. This topic may not sound very poetic, yet thoughts of well-fertilized soil are never far from the poet-gardener’s mind. Whether it be composed of rotted shells or grass clippings, food scraps or the digested version of such, this substance tends to elicit in people the emotional stuff of which verse is made.
I find the word “dung” an intriguing alternative term. One on-line reference describes dung as “the solid excrement of animals, especially large animals such as cattle or horses” (dictionary.msn.com). Another points to its historical use: “Used as fuel, a substitute for firewood, which was with difficulty procured in Syria, Arabia, and Egypt (Ezek. 4:12-15), where cows’ and camels’ dung is used to the present day for this purpose” (dictionary.reference.com).
There may be a whole division of poetry devoted to the topic of manure, for all I know. Yet when I wrote my first “compost poem” a few years ago I felt pretty radical (“The Flow of Soil,” The MOF&G, Sept.-Nov. 2000). It seemed safer to get on my knees and revere a delicious food such as corn (“Inca Gold,” The MOF&G, June-Aug. 2003). Recently I found myself inspired to revisit both of these topics poetically. Like the old riddle about the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to be sure which one came first: the fertilizer that fed the seed, or the plant material that became the fertilizer.
Dung Woman the Beautiful
The woman at my right shoulder has been maligned for too long.
She is generous, and strong, and she knows it, but that does not
prevent her shedding her tears. Her gifts are in her moisture,
it is true: she rots, digests, breaks down the whole into elemental parts.
Yet her gifts, despite her name which recoils many, lie in her fecundity.
Down in the Earth Kitchen, Dung Woman mixes great potions
of former feasts to serve again, feed the people again, grow plants tall
and lush and green. She is dark and rich, mysterious in her magic.
As the Keeper of Black Gold, this lady is surprisingly humble.
Dung Woman, you are beautiful! I come to you with dirt on my face
and soil under my fingernails. I embrace your being with smudges
on my clothes, manure on my boots, and sawdust in my hair.
I kiss the Earth, knowing you are there.
Corn Woman the Brave
The woman at my left shoulder is the color of the sun!
Forsythia in bloom! Daffodils in the spring! Even
– especially – in the waning of the year I may catch
her colors in the trees, a sunset, a winter fire.
Those of us who have tasted her sweet nectar
know also the fullness of her skirts – how she swells
in ripeness beneath a soft layering of muslin,
her silked kernels protected by a dark green sheath.
Corn Mother, your generosity goes beyond crisp
salted chips, grilled cobs, puddings, and fine meal.
Your presence nourishes me in spirit, too.
I see you standing tall with your brethren, swaying
in the breeze. Flashing your shiny leaves at songbirds.
Scenting the air. Throughout the centuries –
in blankets, beadwork, and bowls – you are there.