Edible Earth

By Sam Hamill

We eat the earth
before the earth eats us.

I mean the very soil, the root,
the stalk and the seed we eat,
and the ancient animals even
that we arrived too late to see.

Do I not contain
at least a remnant of the elegant sea mink,
the lumbering, munching
Oregon bison, the proud and mighty
Badlands Bighorn sheep?

In my song or cry
is the remnant of the piercing wail
of the Cascade Mountain Wolf,
and in my belly the blood
of the Eskimo Curlew, the Bering Goose,
and Columbia Pygmy Rabbit;
in my meat
the meat of the hunter of the cumbersome
Columbian Mammoth
and the mammoth’s meat,
the thick brown hide
of the Western Camel
that roamed the Holocene.

I have not seen the sudden flight
of the Laysan Crake,
the Dusky Seaside sparrow
or the Passenger Pigeon
that was still here
when I was born with a scream.
I did not know the Carolina parakeet.

And yet what I am
is what is left of them.
They are gone and what remains
is what I am and will be,
a mystery
in the belly of the Mother Earth,
Gaia, whom we devour and contain,
whom we so thoughtlessly consume,
at whose breast we feed.

At the breast of the Great Mother,
we drink deep and dream.      

Guided by the distant stars,
we dream and depart,
gauging our way by the North Star,
the Dipper, the Great Bear
and the Minor.

Under the Southern Cross
and the Three Marias,
we pass. Under the waxing, waning moon
we measure our days, our weeks,
and gazing up, we swoon.

Beneath our sails, fish too
are passing from our world—
The Longjaw and Blackfin Ciscos
we never caught and ate,
the Yellowfin Cutthroat Trout,
Silver Trout and Thicktail Chub,
Blue Walleye and Maryland darter—
gone into eternity.

We drink the water they drank.
We swim in their history.
They swim in our blood in
the deepest pools of all our genes,
in the bloodlines of Mother Gaia’s breast
at which we feed.

At Mother Gaia’s breast we feed
and sing, dancing to the rhythms of her blood.

We scrape and bruise her flesh
and open a vein in search of what is not ours to have.
Our poisons sicken her and thereby
sicken us.

Our death-tolls are her death-knell.
Our elegies are her deathsong.
Our only real enemy is us.

Walking the great Erthe,
we eat at her abundant table,
bath in the waters
of her dance, weep the salts of her tears.

No one owns a mountain or a lake.
No one buys the air we breathe.
The seas and the soils
are only ours to share
a little while,
before we become the sea, the soil
and the air.

If a single spot of this vast Erthe
is holy, then every spot and every
clod of earth and blade of grass
is equally holy, too.

Equally holy, your country and mine,
your song and mine, your bread and wine and mine,
your belief and my disbelief,
your child and mine.

Your country and my country
cannot be two things,
but are simply sides of one,
an angle of perception, a turn
of a mother tongue.

It is the flesh and blood of our Mother.
It is not separate from ourselves.

One man’s life and work is such a tiny thing.
And yet it is everything we have.

I saw on the California coast
a tree that stood for a thousand years.
I saw a petrified bone from the Pleistocene.
I heard the cicada sing
that lives
but a single day.

One young woman’s menstrual blood
is the blood of all the world,
the sacred thirst, the great compassion
of the feminine, the fecundity
informing all our lives.

Your work is mine and mine is yours.

Breaking the bread, pouring the wine
in the sacred habitat of the home,
our work and our song make one:
laborare est orare—
our labor is our prayer.

Our prayers will not be answered
by some future heaven,
but by what’s planted in our hearts already,
by what we’ve given, what we’ve taken
that was not ours to seize.
Our acts embody our only true beliefs.

Our labors in the home or in the vineyard,
in the office or on the farm,
are mere expressions of devotion,
gratitude for the Great Mother’s
beneficence, her generosity
we must find within ourselves.

Humility before the task;
humility before the suffering of all
our brothers and our sisters
and all the animals that are passing from our lives.

Gratefully, we eat the earth
before we give ourselves
to nourish the earth in turn.


Sam Hamill’s selected poems and translations, Almost Paradise, along with his translations of Tao Te Ching, Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior, and Chuang Tzu are published by Shambhala. His most recent poetry, Measured by Stone is published by Curbstone Press, and his essays on poetry and poets, Avocations, is available from Red Hen Press. He is Founding Editor of Copper Canyon Press, where he served for 32 years. He is co-founder and Director of Poets Against War and divides his time between Port Townsend, WA and Buenos Aires. Find out more at poetsagainstwar.net.

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