Just recently I was out in the backyard stirring my still-frozen compost heap, muttering incantations--imprecations--under my breath as I endeavored to wake it up for spring. Maxine Kumin lived on a horse farm, and her compost heap was of another order entirely. For Poetry Month this year I present her meditation on compost.
(From Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010)The Brown MountainWhat dies out of us and our creatures,out of our fields and gardens,comes slowly back to improve us:the entire mat of nasturtiumsafter frost has blackened them,sunflower heads the birds have picked clean, the stillsticky stalks of milkweedtorn from the pasture, coffee grounds,eggshells, moldy potatoes,the tough little trees that oncewere crowded with brussels sprouts,tomatoes cat-faced or bitten intoby inquisitive chipmunks,gargantuan cucumbers gone softfrom repose. Not the corn stalks and shucks,not windfall apples. Theseare sanctified by the horses.The lettuces are revisedas rabbit pellets, holy with nitrogen.Whatever fodder is offered the sheepcomes back to us as raisinsof useful dung.Compost is our future.The turgid brown mountainsteams, releasingthe devil's own methane vapor,cooking our castoffs so that fromour spatterings and embarrassments--cat vomit, macerated mice,rotten squash, burst berries,a mare's placenta, failed melons,dog hair, hoof parings--arisesa rapture of blackest humus.Dirt to top-dress, dig in. Dirt fitfor the gardens of commoner and king.