We are living in a world-altering moment in history. Now is the time for art and connection. Now is the time to remember and strengthen our roots in nature and our forests. Taking each day as it comes, I’ve drawn strength from the poetry of these five women of color. With diverse cultural backgrounds, including Creole, Mojave, and Chinese, these artists’ powerful words and depictions of nature resonate deeply with me, so I wanted to share them with you.
Whether it’s a reminder that flowers and our souls grow wild and free or mythologizing the loss of a river, these poems tap into both unique and universal experiences of nature that can help ground us and lay bare all the fierce beauty in our world.
I had no thought of violets of late,
The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet
In wistful April days, when lovers mate
And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.
The thought of violets meant florists’ shops,
And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;
And garish lights, and mincing little fops
And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.
So far from sweet real things my thoughts had strayed,
I had forgot wide fields, and clear brown streams;
The perfect loveliness that God has made,—
Wild violets shy and Heaven-mounting dreams.
And now—unwittingly, you’ve made me dream
Of violets, and my soul’s forgotten gleam.
On the Pulse of Morning
by Maya Angelou
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today,
You may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.
(Excerpt. For the full poem, watch the video below of Maya Angelou performing “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1992 presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton.)
How the Milky Way was Made
by Natalie Diaz
My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take
anything it could wet—in a wild rush—
all the way to Mexico.
Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,
pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers
in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —
‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,
Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—
god-large, gold-green sides,
moon-white belly and breast—
making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.
The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called
‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—
our words for Milky Way.
Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet
and empty, slung over his back—
a prisoner blue and dreaming
of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth
as it gives itself away to the universe
of a sweet-milk body.
Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads
of your throat and thighs.
by Yi Lei
translated by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi
Autumn wind chases in
From all directions
And a thousand chaste leaves
Scatter in me the seeds
Of a thousand saplings.
Let grow a grassy heaven.
On my brow: a sun.
This bliss is yours, Living
World, and alone it endures.
Music at midnight.
Lovers hand in hand
By daylight, moonlight.
Living World, hold me
In your mouth,
Slip on your frivolous shoes
And dance with me. My soul
Is the wild vine
Who alone has grasped it,
Who has seen through the awful plot,
Who will arrive in time to vanquish
The river already heavy with blossoms,
The moon spilling light onto packs
Of men. What is sadder than witless
Wolves, wind without borders,
Nationless birds, small gifts
Laden with love’s intentions?
Fistfuls of rain fall hard, fill
My heart with mud. An old wind
May still come chasing in.
Resurrection fire. And me here
Laughing like a cloud in trousers,
Entreating the earth to bury me.
To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night. Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air
the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light
Join the movement to build a future where forests are valued more standing than logged.