131.1: Cecily Parks:: Post Pastoral & Hesperis matronalis & Fieldfare 131

A woman borrows something heavy. A woman borrows a mode and drags it behind her. From this proceeds a group of poems consumed by desires for violent collision with nature—desires to smash a dandelion on skin, open up a bird, crash into the moon. Cecily Parks captures the tension between nature and the human as a kind of puberty. In these poems, nature poises on the edge of metamorphosis. A tree weeps; an owl pleads; grass and field are given/imagined to have agency. These developments seem the easiest way for the post-pastoral (or maybe anti-post-pastoral) speaker to collide with nature: make it human.

This desire for violence, if depicted on a Venn diagram, would be the overlaps between the realms of natural wildness and human selfishness. Humanity and nature share mutual aims of dominance: the woman with the axe wishes to own the forest while the flower remains an invasive weed; however, when the poet renders this weed (colloquially “mother-of-the-evening”), she places this wild thing inside a drawer, imposing human order. Like weeds cast in a drawer, the speaker of “Hesperis matronalis” is tempered by the burden of control, of “being good.” It seems, as the speaker blurs lines between the natural and human, that part of her goal is to break from her human order and inherit a little more wildness.

That tension is terrifying, invigorating, real. Now, as a reader, I want to open up that bird, but I know that I won’t. I want to press my tongue to the weeping birch. But I wouldn’t want to if there wasn’t something a little human about the natural. I wouldn’t care what nature thought about my axe if field, repeated aloud over and over again, didn’t start to sound a little like feeled. S. Whitney Holmes

Post Pastoral

I borrowed an axe
so heavy I had to drag it
through the woods.

Branches couldn’t catch
the geese or the sliding sun
and the mud-streaked axe blade

and my mud-streaked dress
took on a violet sheen.
I would build a house

to be lonely in. Across
the pond a train grated
through trees. From the woods

came the voice of fox paws
in leaves. From the air
an owl voice pleading

with the moon.
I asked the trees for boards,
shingles, laths

before I swung the axe
to split a birch.
I only nicked it.

I would own the forest.
The tree began to weep.
I licked what it wept.

Hesperis matronalis

A dandelion gleams
in the grass. I could smear it
against my neck

and brighten my throat.
I could sour my mouth
eating its jagged leaves, suck

the meat off sparrow bones
if I knew how to trap a bird
and open it.


Some nights I beg the moon
to swerve and hit me.
I think it would feel

like a blessing, my dress
a window to a gleaming body,
my body bent

under the weight of being


After the dark mass
of sparrows shoves off
the plumed grasses, the stalks

sway. When birds circle
are they waiting for the grasses
to be still

so they can touch them
again, or are they waiting
for the grasses to be good?


I try to turn
my mind to what I know
like the grasses

which are called nimblewill.
Or this flowering weed,

petals violet-blue as light
inside a drawer.


I know the field can be
a companion
but not my daughter.

I know grasses seem
to darken where they rub
against each other.


If grass could wait, what
would it wait for?


Field wing. Field sky.
Field fall. Field flung.

Field seed. Field sung.
Field fog. Field guess.

Field god. Field ghost.
Field line. Field swerve.

Field bone. Field nerve.
Field greed. Field sprawl.

Field weight. Field wall.
Field hay. Field stem.

Field drought. Field flame.
Field ash. Field awe.

Field myth. Field law.
Field paw. Field tail.

Field feet. Field trail.
Field pod. Field burst.

Field blades. Field thirst.
Field will. Field would.

Field hands. Field hold.
Field breath. Field pulse.