“Then—/when the once sturdy barrier/is too old; beyond repair—/down to some skeleton/of former fence glory,/the meadowlarks seek new perches/to sing prairie songs/on last autumn’s stakes/of mullein stalks,/yellow breasts glowing like rising suns,/as the shrikes find thorns/to hang limp treasures/of butchered mouse dead.”—By J. Drew Lanham
By Claire Bateman
GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—January 2020—Dr. J. Drew Lanham is a Clemson University Master Teacher, Alumni Distinguished Professor, and Provost’s Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation. As a Black American, he’s intrigued by how ethnic prisms bend perceptions of nature and its care. His writing and spoken word focus on a passion for wild things, wild places, and the personal and societal conflicts that sometimes put conservation and culture at odds. Drew was named Poet Laureate of his home place county, Edgefield, South Carolina, in 2018 and is the author of Sparrow Envy—Poems (Holocene Press 2016; Hub City Press 2019). His award-winning book, The Home Place-Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (Milkweed Editions 2016/Tantor Media 2019; Burroughs Medal Finalist 2016; SELC Reed Environmental Writing Award 2018), describes a mission to promote environmental sustainability, civil rights, and conservation in new ways by bridging the gaps between science, advocacy, education, and inspiration. His “Orion Magazine” essay, “Forever Gone,” a lyrical treatise on extinction and cultural convergence, was chosen as a Best American Essay for 2018, by Rebecca Solnit. Lanham has been faculty at the Writing in the Ruins Workshop at Wofford College (2012), Bread Loaf Environmental Writing Workshop (2019, 2020), and Chico Environmental Writing Workshop (2020). He currently lives in Seneca, South Carolina.
Ode to an Old Fence
There is a way
that a fence leans
when it is tired of holding cows in—
or wild things out.
It is the way that the wire
rusts from shining silver new
to burnished brown red.
As all the tension rests,
the lines stretched taut to singing
in winter winds
slack to hums, instead.
The barbs begun tack painful
dull over the seasons
in rain and snow,
grow weary from ouching bovine noses,
take on the kinder task
of catching steer tail hairs;
pleasure in barely pricking
the leaping doe’s lithe haunches.
Sparrows sit considering weeds
between spans winding
The posts once straight—
wooden stanchions standing
fail from their feet skyward.
Some relent to an itching heifer’s rubbing;
succumb to satisfying scratches.
Surrender to termite greed.
when the once sturdy barrier
is too old; beyond repair—
down to some skeleton
of former fence glory,
the meadowlarks seek new perches
to sing prairie songs
on last autumn’s stakes
of mullein stalks,
yellow breasts glowing like rising suns,
as the shrikes find thorns
to hang limp treasures
of butchered mouse dead.
Great Basin Wanting
The final leg to Reno from Salt Lake City
Wheels up—we fly across expanses of dry mountains heaved up from dry earth.
Salt Lake seems dirty from up here but I am told there are claims of purity
It is all brown and gray with what water there is or was brined to its edges. The few wavering lines that could be rivers or creeks are barren.
Everything seems to begin out of dry and spill nothing into dry. We fly on in the great silver bird Boeing 737 above it.
As the coming winter snowfall melts next spring the empty ditches snaking below will become freshets.
But now they seem dead dry. The trees are shrubs from up here and maybe from down there too.
Thirst stunts the promise of potential. They can never be tall or think of touching sky.
Evaporation is the God of all drought. A cracked earth swallows prayers for rain.
Hell would be abandoned if it were here.
I look down from higher than golden eagles can soar; higher even than prairie falcons would dive. I wonder on the dry, the brine, the mountains heaved up between them. I pity the trees who do not ask for such and feel the parching from far away.
This thirsty land makes me want the wet from back home—east and south. This place underneath my wings is a waterless basin with the plug pulled out.
And then the second city appears below and I see from raven and magpie height where desire sits. They have sucked it from the ground to make green patches in their dried up town. It is an island of envy all pseudo sylvan and urbane sprawl with lights begging gambling or other secret sins.
I won’t tell if you won’t.
As the land beyond this false green goes,
grows into wild beyond what they tame by blinking lights; by nonstop games—by water they steal from far away,
I remember that I am dry too
and now desiring a drink
like the trees below.
Like every living thing.
Lust of wanting more is no secret here.
BLOOMGASM (n.; new perverse natura) –
1. When everyone else has blown their prettiness on the gamble of a single flower and making seed or provision for the future becomes first and last priority and a few individuals lain outside of order, convention and expectation choose to profuse themselves in the moment in multiples of beauty beyond the one shot go.
2. (n.) an uncontrollably spewed exuberance elicited by bird, cloud, butterfly, storm or blossom.
3. (v.) to bliss in wildness; syn. featherspew, landlust,
Not restricted to botanical specimens.