Christine Holland Cummings


Soil Manifesto

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.
Plants burn
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.

500,000 bacteria
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
they cried.
The world meaning humanity,
only that.
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
are fed.
And so we, our people, can increase
without ceasing.
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
and return
the dead
to the living
Without my teeming masses
the world chokes on its wastes
Without me
no food
no air

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

Car-killed coyote
            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