The Internet Poetry Archive

Black Earth

Marianne Moore

Openly, yes,
with the naturalness
     of the hippopotamus or the alligator
     when it climbs out on the bank to experience the
sun, I do these
things which I do, which please
     no one but myself. Now I breathe and now I am sub-
     merged; the blemishes stand up and shout when the object
in view was a
renaissance; shall I say
     the contrary? The sediment of the river which
     encrusts my joints, makes me very gray but I am used
to it, it may
remain there; do away
     with it and I am myself done away with, for the
     patina of circumstance can but enrich what was
there to begin
with. This elephant skin
     which I inhabit, fibered over like the shell of
     the coco-nut, this piece of black glass through which no light
can filter—cut
into checkers by rut
     upon rut of unpreventable experience—
     it is a manual for the peanut-tongued and the
hairy toed. Black
but beautiful, my back
     is full of the history of power. Of power? What
     is powerful and what is not? My soul shall never
be cut into
by a wooden spear; through-
     out childhood to the present time, the unity of
     life and death has been expressed by the circumference
described by my
trunk; nevertheless, I
     perceive feats of strength to be inexplicable after
     all; and I am on my guard; external poise, it
has its centre
well nurtured—we know
     where—in pride, but spiritual poise, it has its centre where?
     My ears are sensitized to more than the sound of
the wind. I see
and I hear, unlike the
     wandlike body of which one hears so much, which was made
     to see and not to see; to hear and not to hear,
that tree trunk without
roots, accustomed to shout
     its own thoughts to itself like a shell, maintained intact
     by who knows what strange pressure of the atmosphere; that
brother to the coral
     plant, absorbed into which, the equable sapphire light
     becomes a nebulous green. The I of each is to
the I of each,
a kind of fretful speech
     which sets a limit on itself; the elephant is?
     Black earth preceded by a tendril? It is to that
the above formation,
     translucent like the atmosphere—a cortex merely—
     that on which darts cannot strike decisively the first
time, a substance
needful as an instance
     of the indestructibility of matter; it
     has looked at the electricity and at the earth-
quake and is still
here; the name means thick. Will
     depth be depth, thick skin be thick, to one who can see no
     beautiful element of unreason under it?

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