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by Philip White


When I think of earth I don’t hope anymore

in a kingdom of white cliffs,a pinnacle from which you breathe sky and leave the scratch and scar

of man far below you.

In the dawn I saw before me shapes of peaks beyond peaks above the haze.

I thought I could lose myself into that otherworld forever.


That year my father fell to dust, too

early some might say. He was a strong steward over a dead land,

a believer. He packed wheat and cured pork

to widows, soothed the sick. He made the beggar’s bed.


He used to coax melons out of the grey dirt God knows how.

It was eighty percent rock.

Even vetch seeds eager for any soil refused it.

But he knew there was something you could live on

beneath those stones.

Year after year the green sprouts shouldered the slate aside.


Maybe some Indian prophet, some mystical Squanto, taught him to sow raw flesh with the seeds. I

suspect he gave himself slowly, each spring laying the flesh of a hand down to a tongue or an eye

till there was simply nothing left of him here, he had all gone underground.

They sealed the box, shoveled the sharp stones over him.


He took me aside.

We knew the deranged cell had infected his mind.

His voice was a high, pain-pitched falsetto,

but in his eyes gleamed a wild joy. He put two hands behind my head, pulled my ear to his tight lips.

Inherit the earth, he said. You shall inherit the earth.