Compost, by Gary Whitehead, July 96


It’s impossible, isn’t it, to wake
when it’s still dark and walk among hemlocks
and rhododendrons and not know that smell?
Halting there in half-light, you might think

of that odor only as life’s decay, entropy,
a kind of grief. The fern in the fossil,
its brief life ended in the rock that holds
its form an eon, must know of immortality

and the redolence of things made stone.
And there is always afterthought—that what ends begins, and this is reassurance.

A frond uncoils from the bed of last year’s
needles. This is the soul. It grows upward,
toward the light. This is the exultation.

• • •
Gary J. Whitehead, a 1994-95 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow in poetry at Iowa State University and a 1994 recipient of a Galway Kinnell Poetry Prize, is poetry editor of both Flyway and Defined Providence. His poems have recently appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Green Mountains Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Yankee. Originally from Providence, Rhode Island, he now lives in New Providence, Iowa, with his wife Sharen, a psychologist.