Io Moves Into the Greenhouse
If you asked, Io would say that first winter, with its lumped
clouds, sifting snow, and finches frantic with hunger, seemed
never ending. In that far, far country, the jay screamed thief,
thief as the glazed saplings fell along the root buckled earth,
the sky stretched to the color of wet steel,
water pooled in cows’ tracks and footsteps
echoed across slick boards laid against mud.
But still she folded the soft-edged maps, packed away
the guides, the compass, the square, dismissed
proofs and theorems, the very idea of a pivot point
and drove from the city and its biting flies
which never slept. Closed doors of houses
with their many eyes of glass clasped shut
whizzed past as she clamored from packs
of dumped dogs howling sorrow into the night
and cats who leapt from the storm drains’ grates
and with one swift neck-breaking claw, snatched
the acorn-busy squirrels, those bundles of chittery fur
for whom living must seem like nothing
more than moments piled on moments of sheer
terrifying luck. Which is how she felt—except
for the luck—when she moved into the half-collapsed
greenhouse. Gravel slivered in ice, plant pallets
feathered with mold, bare-boned limbs of trees
leaning over fields strewn with stubble-this was her
world now. She settled in, solitude growing exact.
Peacocks cried, ever-watchful tails fanned,
as grasshoppers chewed their way up from their cold
graves and all the roots tunneled underground, iris anxious
to rise above the knives of themselves, hyacinths sloughing
off old skin, readying to burst forth, while Callisto,
that Great Bear, slogged on across heaven’s horizon.
Those First Mornings Living in the Greenhouse
Waking with a fine snow of my own breath
laced across my face, I scratch a stranger’s name
on the ice-slaked plastic. Swinging above
my head, the wrist-thick rope with which I pull
myself from the army cot. Sun crawling over the pines
prisms through the interior frost and turns it to water
and fog so that the greenhouse becomes a phantom of itself.
Mist rises, ice melts, plants unfurl from their cold,
wet sleep to stretch and finger steam
as the sun staggers higher and shafts of light
swell and tumble and skirr
through the drizzle. Then the plants blink,
their veined blood beating faster,
and the greenhouse opens like a bleached eye.
Into Light, Into Another Day
Even before half the greenhouse buckled
from the weight of back-to-back wet winter snows,
the design was nebulous: hollow steel curved
into arcs then screwed into four-by-fours
and pine studs. A high school gym’s surplus
shower curtain was strung aft to aft and rope-rigged
just where the steel had bent and broke
to salvage the half of the greenhouse still
curved like a translucent egg.
Floundering ship that never keeps out water or leaves its moorings.
But still it is a simple enough idea, the half
of the greenhouse with the huge gas heater crumpled,
steel snapped, plastic-ripped, peeled back, flapping in wind,
so where to go but to the other half: the cot
I sleep on, rising every two hours to chunk wood
into the brick-lined fifty-five gallon drum, the annuals
and perennials leaf-dark from cold, shifting a little
when the warm air sifts and fingers
through the tangle of bedding flats.
It is a job--of sorts. The pay what food I grow
and a place to sleep, safer than the streets.
Each gust of wind rips the greenhouse plastic
from the frame, then slams it back down
so that bedding shelves and hanging baskets shudder
and I grow to believe this tattered plastic
is the loose skin that separates the worlds and I feel
expectant, self-conscious, aware of an unknown gaze,
waiting for something, perhaps death, to reach through
the salt shore of my skin and jerk some unknown part
of me through my mouth’s roof to blasted air,
to a place I imagine smells scrubbed and like wild roses
and fog curling from a flooded field at two in the morning,
early May, cows restless in the distance, creek hurling past.
But now I know only the frog’s moans under
the bed, lightning-felled tree sending out fresh
stems all along its trunk, green furl of new plants,
tender and moist, and that smell, unnamable,
clean, reborn, stretched from somewhere,
a strange and waiting place, to here.
Plate, spoon, knife, cast-iron pan.
Rope I pull myself up with. Futon,
pillow, seams bleeding feathers,
desk lamp hanging by its cord
from the metal hoops beside the one
pair of dress pants, the sun-splotched coat,
water hose coiled on the ice-slivered gravel:
how I name myself now. And this:
flats of plants, flats of bone-flecked wet, black loam,
slim seeds slipped into soil so rich it breathes.
The winter sun looks like polished stone
and all of outside is washed in a strange yellow light,
roof of clouds unbroken and full of rain.
I work all morning, elbow deep in sphagnum and peat moss,
If clouds are the clothes of gods hung out to air,
then today it’s the lesser gods whose rags bunch
and tangle along the lines of heaven’s alleys,
tied window to soot-grimed window.
On days like this my body unhinges: this focus on particulars,
this disappearance into pain, teaching me what death is,
tumbling me out of myself as I lay another seed flat along
the wood shelves gray with age, then pull myself up, though sometimes
the baseball bat beating of the herniated disc is so great,
I think that surely something else tugs me into light, into another day.
Stretched out now, seeds softening, transplants’
bruised roots tender and dependent incubating
under this artificial sky and as I chunk more wood
on the fire, raise and lower the pump’s handle,
turn the hose to the finest mist, rain begins,
earnest and steady, falling to the snow-
saturated earth, tunneling through mud and roots
and burrows of shivering mice and falling on raptors scouring
the fields for those mice, on worm and cardinal and starling,
on ratsbane and rats alike, rain to rise again, surely as the dead
on their last walk, their trek across the trail of stars
we call the milky way, soon to rise again, rise to air,
stumbling along as all things must, on this light-dazzled,
star-spangled bridge of terror we say yes to,
this thing we call life, lucky, lucky, labyrinth of life.
-from Hunger (Tinderbox Editions, 2018)
Judy Jordan’s first book of poetry, Carolina Ghost Woods, won the 1999 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as the Utah Book of the Year Award, the OAY Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. Her second book of poetry, Sixty Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance, was published by LSU press. Jordan’s third book, Hunger, was published by Tinderbox Editions in 2018. Jordan just completed a fourth book of poetry, Children of Salt, which will be released in 2021 by Tinderbox Editions, and is currently working on a fifth and sixth manuscript. Jordan built her own environmentally friendly earthbag and cob house off-grid surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest and teaches creative writing at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.