As the Roots Prepare for Literature

by Brenda Hillman

   Sound, what is your muse? Just now,
          we found a meaning but too soon—
   cckkcckk…Dawn sprinklers start &
crickets wheel, they go down-down, dippy
down-down. Smell of toast in the suburbs.
            The West is burning. Our little mother
        prays in her sleep, our father rests
    under his new big scar like America.
Ancestors step through flame to get to them.
Beyond air, the galaxies whirl ceaselessly
      as picnic salt—
                        Our childhood sight
hath gathered multitudes…On streets
    named for forts or saints, news is brought
to foreclosed houses. The medicated grasses wait.
In other deserts, soldiers kill other people’s
           parents. Here the unemployed wear boots
   in cafés near terrifying pies
piled high with cream.  Wrens make nests
           in cholla. Cylindropuntia fulgida. Spirits
stand round in the bodies of doves.

          Do you remember learning to spell?
It’s best to bring words slowly into English;
 wrad (the root of root)shines
         for centuries underground.  It’s not
for nothing the shadows are lit when children
are called to literature.    Now word
                        has gone out that you are here.
    Paper lanterns glow & sleepers curve
their heat-shapes to the ground.  Hard
   for you to keep steady, i know. The roots
      of your words can see fire, though.


On the Miracle of Nameless Feeling

The Fuel for Infinite Life

brenda hillman Brenda Hillman has published eight collections of poetry, all from Wesleyan University Press: White Dress (1985), Fortress (1989), Death Tractates (1992), Bright Existence (1993), Loose Sugar (1997), Cascadia (2001), Pieces of Air in the Epic (2005), and Practical Water (2009), for which she won the LA Times Book Award for Poetry, and three chapbooks: Coffee, 3 A.M. (Penumbra Press, 1982); Autumn Sojourn (Em Press, 1995); and The Firecage (a+bend press, 2000). She has edited an edition of Emily Dickinson's poetry for Shambhala Publications, and, with Patricia Dienstfrey, co-edited The Grand Permisson: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (2003). She co-translated, with Diallah Haidar, Poems from Above the Hill: Selected Poems of Ashur Etwebi, one of Libya's most significant poets. In 2010 she co-translated Jeongrye Choi's book of poems, Instances, released by Parlor Press.