Work the land long enough,
and you become aware of the kelp-like waves
of crops advancing and retreating
across the face of the earth.
What was once butternuts is now the bean row,
last year’s beets tilled up
to nourish this year’s peas.
The strawberries have been there for years, advancing.
My knees down in the dirt, I’m picking beans
for market, the afternoon radio so serious,
the static silence of the reporter buzzing
out the window of the truck from where I parked it.
The woman on the radio is crying,
so far and near in this equinoctial sunlight
behind a wall, on the other side of a fence,
I can taste her tears. She wants to go back
to Syria, even after all that.
Look, the reporter doesn’t even need to ask why.
Everyone knows. Anyone else would
feel the same.
A pause for hearing the sound weeds make
when you pull them up, their roots softly snapping
down in the damp earth, a low orchestra tuning
its strings past the breaking point.
Another woman is speaking now
from Chicago, emphatically,
“We are a nation of immigrants,
it’s only right we welcome the immigrants.
These people are our people.”
And all that pride and love I have
for the things that belong to me
is tapped. America the palimpsest,
I am your oldest sister, eagerest researcher.
The first thing I wanted to know,
driving up the Southern Tier Expressway
into Allegany County in New York,
was the history of the place.
Who settled here? I asked my mother,
What did their farms look like?
Where did they come from?
What did they do to the land?
And further back, who did they replace?
What were the tribe names, what languages,
what tongues? Who created the world, according
to their myths?
I was going to be there for four years —
I needed something to go on, a way
to start feeling once again
You will not be here forever,
nor the Syrian woman,
nor the civil servant in Chicago,
nor my garden,
Given enough time we’ll all work ourselves
down into the dirt, whether it’s Kalkaska,
Chesuncook, Menfro, Monongahela,
or Hillsdale sandy loam,
which is what my garden’s growing in,
the row of parsnips that just germinated
shaking their tiny cotyledons out to dry.
The generous guest who offered to help me for the afternoon
keeps stepping back on them accidentally,
and I bite my tongue.
He did not kneel, paper-thin seeds piled
in his hand, to sow them pinch by pinch,
after tilling and hoeing and weeding and hoeing again,
hoping to get the row straight this time,
I can’t expect him to know
that row is there. It grows not only in the ground,
but in my mind, which is where I keep it,
with all the things I love that belong to me.