Two Poems by Margaret Anne Ernst

The Land of Safe Touch

what if there were a land of safe touch
only slightly above ours, suspended
with a smooth blue rope

a realm, perhaps
the first layer of heaven
a troposphere of mutually good feeling

in this land a woman embraces
her infant grandchild, skin upon skin
tired wrinkle upon soft baby hairs

in the country of lovers
there would be young people
learning what feels good

then talking about it
over a cup of steaming tea
people wedded for life

cup each other’s heads and
with them hold memories, years
of safe touches past

elsewhere, someone receives a letter
long-awaited, saying they’ve been accepted
for full citizenship in the world

no ankle bracelets, or border checks
they brush palms with the mailman
and tear the corners of an envelope

licked by a woman bureaucrat
who has only ever known
consensual love

tollbooth operators take down their masks
unafraid of the exchange
of particles on the highway

I stand five feet
from you, ready
then four feet:

three feet:
two feet:
one foot



Planting Instructions

Dedicated to the community of North Nashville, Tennessee, where, after a devastating tornado in March 2020, residents turned an abandoned lot into a community garden in the cleanup process as they put their lives back together again.

Tell me what you’ll turn into a garden
when things get hard.

Tell me which abandoned salt mine
you’ll turn into a wild bed of roses
laced with dancing gooseberries,
covered in wasteful morning dew.

Tell me what bathtub,
which plastic children’s chair,
which side table you’ll lift
from the rubble of fallen walls

to place in a garden you’ll build
on your block after the tornado strikes,
which public square you’ll cover
with root vegetables in lean times.

Tell me where you’ll hide the string beans
in your hair, which hidden jeans pocket
you’ll sew into a planter for chamomile
to grow for when it’s needed.

Tell me which government building
you’ll erect an orchard in,
lining pear trees down the hall
where city planners rake their monetary dreams.

Tell me what plants you’ll place
into the moist earth of statue bases
that used to house generals
and conquistadors.

Tell me which abandoned memory
you will plant with sunflowers
to attract pollinators and detox
the contaminated ground.

Tell me which wildflowers you’ll plant
on the bridge of your nose
in a lattice between your eyes
until all you see is beauty.

Tell me what seeds you’ll sow
in a dotted line in the path
between you and the person
you last hurt,

enough space between each
to breathe and make shade
for beetles and crickets
to cool underneath.

Tell me how you’ll pick mushrooms
grown over your grandmother’s grave
that have remediated the top layer
of earth that covers her ashes.

Tell me which journal entries
and New Year’s resolutions
or stories of self-contempt
you’ll use in the compost

for a patch of tomatoes
that will catch the sun in July,
where you’ll gently teach your granddaughter
how to take from the earth.

Tell me what fruit will grow on your tongue
when you say what you have needed to say
all this time. When you don’t hold back.
When you live into your vegetable nature.

When you become the soil
for a new world.

About Rev. Margaret Anne Ernst

Rev. Margaret Anne Ernst is a writer, community organizer, and minister ordained in the United Church of Christ. Her writing has been published in Saccharine Poetry, Montana Mouthful, www.RadicalDiscipleship.net and Unbound: An Interactive Journal on Christian Social Justice.

She contributes biblical commentaries to the podcast The Word is Resistance and blogs at www.plantedmoredeeply.wordpress.com.

Margaret lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Lenapehoking territory.

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