Topsoil, in Repentance

Dereje Demissie (Ethiopia), Psychscape (2009)

On my mind daily with the insistence of a metronome
is that thin granular layer, rich humus, spare humility,
black earth daily lifted and blown into the Gulf of Mexico.

Thinnest of salvations with a margin of error
wide as the pink, gelatinous body of the earthworm
Which my spade barely misses, and every time

my tines enter the ground, my wrist twists the damp loam,
I breathe easier to see them wriggling, unburied
fleeing the light, burrowing back down, aerating

this earth we have packed down with our culpability
this immense density of earth, only the topmost of which
can support the unimaginable numbers of us, our great warm swarm

Squinting up in immense sunlight I hear the silent swish and tick
the back-and-forth rhythm, the last few seconds before midnight
the enormity of the loan, which has been called in full

The hazy buzzing of the furry bees, busy in the branches
above my exposed neck, on any given day a stay
for a little while longer, of execution

Sherry Shenoda is a Coptic American poet and pediatrician, born in Cairo, living in California. Her work is at the intersection of human rights and child health. Her first novel, The Lightkeeper, was published in May 2021.