I believe concerns for the environment have a place
in literature, but apprehension for our planet is seldom voiced
in poetry. The poems may be written, but they aren’t often
published. With subjects of science, a poet must tread lightly.
Poets are not allowed to preach the world a sermon. Like most
practicing poets, I write what comes to me. When environmental
concerns grow in my poems, I think, this poem will never get
published. I work harder on these than on my others. Here are three
that slipped passed the editors.
Three Environmental Poems by Nancy Simpson
WHAT SHE SAW AND WHAT SHE HEARD
On the mountain a woman saw
the road bank caved in
from winter’s freeze-thaw
and April rain erosion.
Trees leaned over the road the way
strands of hair hung on her forehead.
She gaped, her face as tortured
as the face she saw engraved in dirt.
Roots growing sideways shaped brows,
two eyes. Humus washed
down the bank like a nose.
Lower down, where a rock
was shoved out by weathering,
a hole formed the shape of a mouth.
The woman groaned, Agh!
Her spirit toppled
to the ground, slithered
under the roots of an oak.
She stood there as if lost, asking
Back to reason, back home
she finishes her questions:
What can one make of the vision, that face
on the north side of the mountain?
Reckoning comes, a thought:
It is not the image of a witch nor a god,
but Earth’s face, mouth open saying,
First published in Pembroke Magazine
and featured on the NC Poet Laureate’s Web site,
The green ghost in me is the land
I sold to the land developers.
They wanted money. I wanted time
that money can buy, but got
a kind of poverty. They cut trees,
dug deep septic tanks, and paved
a road across the highest ridge.
I sold my spring branch,
gave up my bloodroot.
Twenty houses line the ridge
where trees stood. Men who live
in the houses take out their trash.
They bring in wood for their fires.
In summer women sunbathe on wide decks
that extend out over the mountainsides.
Barking dogs frighten fox kits.
The old bear is gone,
and squirrels are settling down ridge.
I got cash from people who want to live
at the top, who feel transcendent viewing
the blue lake that glistens in the distance.
They are exalted looking down on
the slow mob that moves through the valley.
I have some money now, but I am poor,
leaving with a green ghost in me.
First published in The Georgia Journal
and reprinted in State Street Reader
WALKING AROUND LAKE KNOWLES WITH SARAH
The plan was to turn left
at the corner, go home,
but I took her hand,
went right instead because
there was a turtle in distress.
The turtle was large,
with a scarred shell
and seemed confused,
moving from the sidewalk
into rush hour traffic.
I said “Mother Earth is calling,”
and my granddaughter, not five,
believed and followed me.
She asked, “How did you hear
Mother Earth calling?”
The turtle pulled in its head.
I said, “I didn’t hear with my ears.”
“Uh huh,” Sarah nodded. She spoke
the way one speaks to a pet,
said, “Come out.”
The turtle stuck out its head.
I turned it toward the lake.
It left the sidewalk,
slid across the grass, down the bank,
and splashed with gusto into the water.
We cheered. I said, “Turtles
are old, best loved creatures.”
“Shhhhh,” Sarah hissed, said, “I know”.
We walked a second time
around Lake Knowles, then home.
Previously published in Prairie Schooner
Nancy Simpson is the author of ACROSS WATER and NIGHT STUDENT
(State Street Press), and editor of LIGHTS IN THE MOUNTAINS, Stories,
Essays, and Poems by Writers Living in or Inspired by the Southern Appalachian
Mountains. Her poems were published in The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner,
Indiana Review and other literary magazines. Most recently she had poems in
Southern Poetry Review, Journal of Kentucky Studies and Cooweescoowee
Review from Will Rogers University in Oklahoma. Poems were reprinted
in anthologies: WORD and WITNESS, 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry,
Literary Trails of N.C. and seven poems will be included in Southern Appalachian
Poetry forthcoming from McFarland Press.