go outside and listen

“I’m sad,” I tell her, looking for analog
in a world of constant digital connection.
“I know,” she said, “you used to write
great letters, too, and you know a lot of people,
but you just need your roots.”

“Go outside and listen,” my mother advises.

Outside, I see all the life looking for hands,
all the living things that need me back,
and I understand what they want—
flowers for vases, tomato vines withering
but weighted with so much pendulous red.
It’s all thirsty, even the sunflowers nod and
hang their heads.

The fires are burning still, more now every day
acres of smoke closer still than farther away.

It’s hard to see, so I listen.

Windchimes in a dusty breeze, paper crisp rose edges
and black spotted leaves. A dog barks, children scream
playing near dark, screeching brakes, and the Jade District
festival thick with voices and music, pounding echoes,
firework sparks.

War drums sound, apocalypse theater,
Taiko, large and loud. I reach for shears,
and go to ground.

I pull the small dandelion fluff of lettuce tops
into a silver kitchen bowl, swirl until the seeds release
the temple drums continue, the clouds go grey
the rusty gate opening screech call of a Scrub Jay
pecking black seeds from under the yellow bonnet,
the neighborhood, haunted.

The early dusk, a yellow-green cyclone sky,
wildfires make for softbox sunsets in the summertime,
the dried up lake beds reveal ancient forests,
the grass has all died, save for the clover.
We may need them when this is all over.

“Go outside and listen,” she said.
I don’t see any people,
but I hear them all.

3 thoughts on “go outside and listen

  1. This poem, despite the apocalyptic undertones, comforted me. “We may need them when this is all over” to me signified an endurance of nature and human connections. The end of August has been an unsettling and contemplative time for me since I was a kid, unwilling to return to school and anticipating the unknown difficulties the year would bring me. The end of the summer is the calm before an unknowable storm, maybe, and this poem seemed to counsel the reader to be patient and to observe.


    1. Thank you, Mary! I really like that you took some meaning to your own story and emotions around impending Autumn.

      This was me confiding in my mother about the lack of human connection I often feel in a digital world. I like to go outside and play the “listening game,” because you can hear all the hum of life from close to far. That “listening” also means looking into the plants in my garden, understanding what they need and tending to them—something I wish people were better at with each other.

      The apocalyptic undertones assigned to the regular task of collecting seeds, well . . . the PNW wildfires are just one more extension of my personal eco-angst over climate change. I was standing in the garden, the sun was a dusky orange, the smoke had filled the city like a war zone, and nearby, the Taiko festival drums were so loud, it all felt very foreboding. I was waiting for Mad Max to roll by any minute to drive me through the desert!

      Despite all that, yes—we will need them, the people, and the clover, when it’s all over. They are the only survivors on the dead lawn in a drought. Clover’s not a scourge when the bees still have something to eat, and we still have a connection to the food we grow. And the fire may be cutting through the forests, but the dried up lake beds reveal, we’ve all been here before.

      Liked by 1 person

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