Down to EarthBy James Crews

The heart of a farmer

is made of muscle

and clay that aches

for return to earth.

And when the sky

releases a steady rain,

massaging each row

of sprouted beans,

my husband leans out

of the car window

and opens his hand

to hold that water

for a single instant,

his heart now beating

in sync with rain

seeping through layers

to kiss the roots

of every plant alive

on this living, breathing

planet on whose back

we were granted

permission to live

for a limited time.

James Crews is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, “The Book of What Stays,” and “Telling My Father.” He is also the editor of “Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection,” published by Green Writers Press. He lives on part of an organic farm with his husband in Shaftsbury.

What I love about this poem, “Down to Earth,” by James Crews, as much as its choice of words, is its rhythm, which feels like the rhythm of the Earth when it rains. The poem and the rain start slowly, then gain speed literally and emotionally as the lines stream on. The first line catches our attention with its declarative tone, one that could be used to describe almost anything. But what the words are describing is hardly almost anything; it is a heart — the heart, no less than that of the speaker’s beloved, and this becomes a central image and motif the poem circles back to.

The strong rhythm continues through the poem’s brief lines so full of sensory imagery. We feel the drops of rain, the hand that holds them, the heavy air. We aren’t so consciously aware at first of all that is happening but instead, simply feel it. The poem’s impact grows from its depth of feeling and its own growing heartbeat, until it ends as suddenly as it began, and we are stopped in our tracks to pause and wonder what did just happen.

We were taken inside a moment, one that feels brief but long at the same time, one covering much ground, air and flesh. The reader is given such a vivid rendering of the speaker’s experience that we are able to feel what he feels: the heavy air, the stillness, the seconds before rain and his deep awareness of the other. The one long, sensuous line that comprises almost the whole poem, has made a perfect circuit out of a moment caught at just the right time, by the eye of the poet who was present to see it all.

Upon my sixth or seventh reading, I was so lulled and transported that I had lost all sense of anything in the poem being separate from anything else, and this is part of the poem’s beauty and power — for boundaries to drop away, both within and outside the poem. The rain massaging the sprouted beans is the farmer’s hand touching them, is the rain on his hand, is his beating heart, is the pulsing life in the ground.

This is a beautifully encompassing love poem — both to the Earth and to the speaker’s beloved. We see it in the poet’s exquisite attention to his husband’s one swift motion and the capturing of all that it means, all the things this one gesture is for. It seems to be for the beans, the earth, the rain, for the farmer and his partner, for everything in a sense — the sweet, interwoven and intricate whole that we all are part of, and that we all live within.

Susan Jefts is from Ripton and the Adirondacks of New York. She has been published in many journals throughout the country, most recently, Fired Up, an environmental zine, and the anthology, “Birchsong.” "Down to Earth" first appeared in the Vermont anthology, Birchsong, Volume II, in 2018.

 

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