Two Poems

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.