A Poem: Triptych for An American Backyard

 In Culture, Feature


that August when she ran out
into the yard and the wash of
an afternoon storm

rain and thunder so loud
they could hold her screams

the long-toothed pick comb was
somehow still in her hand

she threw it into the rain
and felt the cool slick mud
under her feet

we must break again and again
and again until there are
no more pieces left

going back inside
standing dripping in the kitchen
she heard the drum of the fading storm and
remembered who she was meant to be

cloud herbarium 4



every leaf, every atom
every stone, root,
discarded playing card,
branch, grain, tree
plastic skeleton arm,
every electron, molecule,
quark and bench

all of it

fragments and forms
material and moments
infinity of fractions and fractals
forever unfolding and
folding into themselves

cloud herbarium 2


this backyard is a cosmos

ravens come and go,
moving pieces back and forth

i imagine a botanist arriving
who has lost her memory

she draws wild inferences the way
a handful of bones
under a California freeway
can inspire a movie

those ancient mosses,
a soft green ring around
the base of the sycamore
finally gave birth to this
calendar urging young men
and young women to join
the National Guard,
each month a young man
or a young woman

in a mast year that lilac
against the stockade fence
dropped 9mm bullets
that worked their way into the ground
separating into female casing
and male slug and
seventeen years later
this penny emerged

this yard is giving birth
this yard is at war

the way America gives birth
the way America is at war

cloud herbarium 1



This poem was inspired by Cloud Studio Herbarium, a piece by St. Louis artist John Sarra. Images provided by the artist.

Artists’s Statement:

“This body of work emerged from my interest in botany as well as themes of memory, illusion, usefulness and the passage of time. The urban garden provides a special nexus between nature and culture, and as an artist I find that gardens have a rich metaphorical relationship to the studio. My garden is in my front yard, which stretches out along the north side of Delmar Boulevard.  This street is well known as a dividing line between social and racial communities in St. Louis, and provides a distinctive context for observing and participating in the life of the city. In ecological terms, this space would be called an ecotone—a transitional space where two communities meet and integrate. Concrete isn’t the only evidence of the transition between nature and culture.

Each day I clean up trash that has been that has been blown or dropped along the road.  Occasionally there are objects of interest, and over the years I have made a collection of them.  Some that stand out disconcertingly in their form and frequency are the parts and pieces of artificial plants that have been lost or discarded.  They appear as fragments, individual petals and leaves, and sometimes as entire specimens.  There is poignancy in this semblance of new and transient species, these awkward hybrids of nature and culture. I created the Cloud Studio Herbarium as a physical and virtual space to display an evolving index of these artificial plants.  The seed packets (small envelopes attached to each specimen sheet) contain collections of other objects that were found under similar circumstances.  These objects work together as a sort of visual poetry, open to various arrangements and interpretations.”

-John Sarra

Read our Q&A with Jay Erickson and poem that appeared in our second print issue of the year.

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