Sunday, August 22, 2010

What Kinds of Words?

--after Neruda's Book of Questions

What kinds of words might the kudzu whisper to the magnolia branches as it overtakes them?

I imagine them to be syllables of consolation and care, spoken with tenderness despite the encroachment of vine over pod. Inexorability curls around each phrase in a drawl, slowed so that the emerging noises sound like a record played at the wrong speed, lulling branches and blossoms into acquiescence.

How long does it take for rust to darken into bloody burnt sienna?

No one can tell. The flakes defy analysis. Their carbon craquelure hearts don’t like being studied. They change with the slowness of snowdrops settling into soil when flurries fall and the earth is too warm for them to stick.

When will this well run dry? And when it does, what will you do for drinking?

Its water, like the backside of that old barrel I found down in the ravine last fall, has been rusty for some time now, and there's no telling what will happen next. I had a dream the other night about a tall machine, like a crane or an android giraffe, lanky with angles of metal that reach up to the sky when they should somehow be digging. When I woke I felt taller for a moment, and also deeper, as if the soles of my feet had met up with some spilled honey or errant tar while I walked in my sleep.

Whose face do you see in the moon?

Last time I looked, it was a bitter old man, in love with rocks, who collected them in heaps and hid them behind big sheets of wavy glass for no one to hold and touch. That glass is cracked and clamped together with big metal pincers now, and I see stick figures of men running in the stacks of marble alongside the buildings where the rocks still wait for someone to see them, know them, collect them, love them.

How do you know what those rocks need?

I do not know for sure but I had a feeling last time I was with them that they were lonely, that their coldness belied an ache for touch, a stony pulse that no scope can find. Of course, I could be wrong.

What kind of birds are those in the big white oak down by the train tracks?

They don't resemble any other birds I've ever seen. Their feathers catch the rain and turn it blue. They sound like killdeers do at dusk, but they don't play games in the grass to keep things safe at home. There are four of them and they share branches with six or seven crows in peace, the bigger darker birds still as silhouettes in a shadow box.

How do you know what to gamble on?

Anything can merit the tenderness of risk. It might be numbers, taken from some pool of pattern we all dip into when we need to quantify or guess. It could be weather: the blessing of rain in lakes, the welcome screen of snow on grass in early morning, the return of warmth. Or it could be something else entirely: a roll of the dice into the grace of shadow and the diminishment of wealth. Smallness, a challenge and a psalm, dealt out like manna or a sacrament as things fall apart and the center splinters into pieces of itself in places we can't reach or see. Loss, a subtraction resisted at first but then embraced and even loved.

When will we know when to quit?

When the smoke turns colors we don't see now. When cities percolate with the sounds of moving feet, not rushing but ambling, sharing the roads with the fed travelers who once sat hungry and alone on crowded hillsides. A multitude, at peace and heading towards some common space of work and gentle effort, a tribe finally able to claim its sustaining voice in the spaces where the words once slept.

© Laura Sorrells 2010
All rights reserved

For once, this is not a found poem.


  1. very well constructed...we shouldn't quit when we return to tribal living, that's when we should start...

  2. Thank you. Well, maybe before then, I'm thinking, but perhaps that's when a more authentic beginning could happen....thanks for understanding what I was getting at here.


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About Me

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Georgia, United States
I live at the edge of the forest in a little town in the north Georgia mountains. I teach sixth grade Language Arts and am writing a memoir of sorts about family, spirituality, and narrative. I am also exploring a possible writing project having to do with contemporary lay contemplative experience and how it might be informed by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christianity. I am a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism and an admirer of Pope Francis, Leonardo Boff, Joan Chittister, and Richard Rohr. I'm a Lay Associate of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. I am interested in indigenous cultures, narratives, and spirituality, especially how these can inform my spirituality as a lay contemplative. I write, read, take pictures, play around with creating ephemera from paper and cloth and other organic things. I cook, hike, watch wildlife, and collect random bits of interesting oddness, both tangible and abstract. I am a seer of smallness and a caretaker of ridiculous minutiae. If you want, e-mail me at or