Poetry / Evie Shockley
:: morning: what you knew when it was quiet ::
—sometimes the light leans into the mountain the grass yellow in the curved green dark of trees the mountain meadow stretches belly up to the sun sometimes fear is the only shadow you are as able as a cedar an un- imported native plant before the light knows its power finds its fist it places its warm palm along the mountainside and everything green of the mountain reaches up sometimes fear is only the shadow of your reaching—
:: in the california mountains, far from shelby county, alabama and even farther from the supreme court building, the black poet seeks the low-down from a kindred entity :: seep-spring monkey flower, growing up from the scorched earth of last year’s planned burn: looks like you, too, know how to get what you need under cover of darkness. sunshine’s only half the story. when light becomes fire, we reach down and let our roots sustain us till the topsoil’s ready for our comeback. we’re all aware there’s no justice in drought: and whoever says this weather’s nobody’s fault has just bought a bridge they hope to resell. like you, we’re perennial in warmer climes. we’ve also been called monkey, and didn’t get to vote on that either. so: can we pay a poll tax with pollen?
From the writer
:: Account ::
These two poems were among the gifts I received from my participation in the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop in June 2013. We gathered for a week, there in the Tahoe Basin of the Sierra Nevada mountains, to recharge, expand, and deepen our connection to poetry by writing a new poem-draft each day and sharing those drafts the following morning for a quick round of focused and generous feedback. Being in that space—not only an amazing community, but a beautiful and (for me) unfamiliar landscape—tends to bring out of me work that lies in the more metaphysical and attuned-to-“nature” zones of my poetic spectrum. Among the many voices that I gratefully heard and absorbed that week, Brenda Hillman’s and Sharon Olds’s were noteworthy (conscious) “influences” on the poems I wrote. Also, the spirit of Lucille Clifton, who is a part of my earlier memories of this place, looms large there and encourages particular kinds of bravery, humor, and linguistic economy. Though the workshop is a retreat, of sorts, news of the world beyond the mountains did reach us, and an especially infuriating event (amidst other happier stories) sparked one of these poems. Lastly—and with a nod to NourbeSe Philip and Robert Hayden, whose work was central to the craft talk I gave that week—I’ll note that these poems are marked by my ongoing interest in the possibilities of form and structure in poetry.
Evie Shockley is the author of the new black (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), awarded the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2006), as well as the critical study Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2011). Her writing appears widely in journals and anthologies, recently including Contemporary Literature, Mandorla, Tin House, and Russell Atkins: On the Life & Work of a 20th Century Master. She is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University.