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.