This Sacred Earth
Golden Shovel of “The Wife’s Lament” (ll. 33b-36):
All my friends dwell in the dirt,
I loved them while they lived,
now guarding their graves,
when I go forth alone
in the darkness of daybreak
under the oak-tree
outside this hollowed earth.
The trees grow through ruins, abandoned, all;
walking over fallen leaves like graves, my
footfalls die into deep silence. Friends
wouldn’t come, fearing the radioactive isotopes that that dwell
here, locked under carbon-sinking roots, deep in
the earth; I see roots sinking like the
fingers of giant, twisted hands into dirt,
pressing down poison like potters’ clay. I
wander in dappled leaf-shadow; always loved
their phosphorescent branches at night. For them,
I’ll tarry to tend their tender shoots, while
the meter on my suit chirps caution. They
don’t have such protection; for as long as they’ve lived,
these ancient trees have swallowed toxins. Now,
the giants wither, and the saplings must take their turn guarding
this land where humans once abided, their
home. See how they rise from the temples, the graves,
thrust from skeletal skyscrapers? When
the war came, these trees endured more than I
will ever experience. That’s why I go
to witness them. I listen to leaf-whisper, then go forth.
It doesn’t seem right to leave them alone
in the shadow of our past mistakes, in
the ruins of our false pride, in the
shattered, poisoned darkness;
leave them to commute our sins of
omission into new life by each daybreak.
Yet as I guide each bough under
the canopy of twisted ancients, the
leaves rustle forgiveness; each oak-tree
offers a benison as I leave. Outside
the fallout zone, the sky seems grayer. This
must be an illusion, and yet, as I return to my hollowed
city, perhaps I have left behind sacred earth.
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling and Pushcart nominations and appeared in over twenty journals; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show and Compelling Science Fiction, and will soon appear in Galaxy’s Edge and at Pseudopod. For more about her work, including her Edda-Earth novels, please see www.edda-earth.com.
Editor’s Notes: The complete work from which the cited lines come from is found here: https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/the-wifes-lament. Learn more about Golden Shovel poems from the Poetry Foundation and the links in therein: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/articles/92023/introduction-586e948ad9af8
The image of a barren tree with a “post apocalyptic sky” (Max Pixel) is superimposed on a radiation warning symbol.