Fertile: An Anthology of Earth Poems and Prose from the High Desert and Mountains of the Four Corners Region is a unique literary arts project, envisioned and midwifed by Sonja Horoshko, a journalist and visual artist from Cortez, Colorado. Twenty-three published writers, including yours truly, were invited to speak love to our memory of the topic––Earth in all her abundance and endangerment. The works in this volume, published in 2023 by Fourth Corner Press, are as diverse as the authors, evidenced only in part by the occasional code-switching among English and other first languages, among them: Diné (Navajo), Haak'u (Acoma), Spanish, and Mvskoke, sometimes translated to English, sometimes left to the reader's understanding. As Sonja writes, "Collectively, the impact of reading the poems and prose slows down our comprehension rate on purpose to give the gift of contemplation to those who regard the natural elements as blessings."
About being part of Fertile, Michael Thompson (Mvskoke) relates: "Why I am so honored to be included in this collection is the amazing rigor and passion every writer brought to his or her contribution. Every human being has countless intimate memories of this earth. The natural world, in all of its splendid fecundity, has been our nursery, our school, our laboratory, our ceremonial ground, and ultimately, our home, regardless of whatever individual identity we might claim. If you ask empathetic writers to write of their love for earth, you should expect their best. That is the sort of work that Fertile celebrates."
Two excerpts from Thompson's "Sixty-nine Snapshots of Our Mother:"
1954: Deep in the damp and fertile foliage of memory, I sometimes
recall the milky scent of my Mvskoke mother's brown breasts, the
shade of ripe pecans, and her voice humming a lullaby.
1999: Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't sing. The mean-
ing of the inipi, for me, began with the songs. The songs gave me
strength, patience, humility. Songs, songs, songs, songs. Songs for
the directions, for the medicines, for the animals, for thanksgiving,
for honoring, for sorrowing, for healing, songs for the earth.
My longtime friend, former work colleague and Diné elder, Gloria Emerson, brought to the project a collection of stories and poems called "The Esthetics of Tsé Áwózí." Tsé Áwózí is a phrase that describes pebbles. Ever since I've known her and long before, Gloria has collected small rocks, and they find places all over her home.
I love the beauty of miniature packages––tsé áwózí, k'é, jish––
holding massive details of geophysical history, stories of our social
world, and guidance to our spiritual cosmos.
stones carry the history
of ancient pathways
of astrologic vomit
star power poking drops of light into the crevices
of geologic time
ancient stories light dim hallways of star charts (chatter)
falling to here, intergalactic motion,
planets forming mountains forming rivers forming
"Tsé áwózí is all we got. Can't farm. Don't know what to do with
all these rocks, they keep us from farming."
~ Betty Becenti, farmer, at farmers' meeting on January 25, 2001
My own work in Fertile is a nineteen-part meditation on "Tongues." Three excerpts:
My Mother Tongue is the US variety of English. I also heard Dutch
and Diné bizaad before I left my mother's womb. Dutch from my
father's parents and sometimes from my mother and father. Diné
bizaad from the Diné man who was my father's big brother, his
mentor, at Bible School, and especially from Ed's wife, Ella, who
talked more than Ed.
The church of my youth was not a shouting church. Members
scoffed at Pentecostal churches, where people spoke in tongues.
"Holy Rollers," they called them. Once, when I was ten years old, I
went to that kind of church with my friend. It was loud and mysteri-
ous, fervid. The worshippers were heirs of the bibilical apostles who
had tongues of fire land on their heads at Pentecost. All that emo-
tion scared me, but I sure hoped I would get to see tongues of fire.
The tongues we speak bring us the taste of words. The muscles wrap
themselves around teeth and cheeks and lips to make the sounds.
The tongues we speak also present us with lavish food flavors. From
US English, mac and cheese. When I am being Dutch-American, I
eat moes, a peasants' mix of mashed potaatoes or rice with bacon fat,
kale, and bacon pieces. At Christmas, my grandmother mailed us
the flaky, buttery, Dutch almond pastry, banket. In Diné bizaad, I can
never get enough dahdíníilghaazh––puffy golden fry bread and with
it, mutton stew. My friend Pita says my ris alamande, the Danish
Christmas rice pudding, made with almond slivers, whipped cream,
and cherries, is food from the gods. In Jewish homes, at Passover, I
eat brisket and matzoh ball soup, charoset, and bitter herbs.
I hope these excerpts have given you a taste of Fertile and whetted your apetite for more. Sonja says that the writers are the project. It is completely funded by our submission fees, and all profits from sales belong to us, the writers. The project was developed to support literary artists. Most of the distribution is done through us, the writers, at this time. You can purchase Fertile from me for $30.95 plus $4 shipping and handling in the US, for a total of $34.95. Contact me if you live outside the US to ask about shipping. If you're interested, and of course, I hope you are, contact me in your usual way, in the comments, or by going to the Contact page on this website. Holiday gift-giving time is coming soon!
Fertile is the second of a four part series on the four elements. Wet, produced in the same way and exploring the element Water, has been purchased from me by some of you. It is still available, although I will have to back order it, whereas I have copies of Fertile available now. Forthcoming will be volumes on Air and Fire respectively.