The Difference Between A Field And A Meadow

the sign tells us, is diversity. No suburban rows

            of plant development here. Not the same shapes stretching 

                        in perpendicular regularity from my eye as we drove 

hundreds of miles, past fields of almond and apricot 

            exactingly spaced. Endless lines of precise grapevines

                        and the pumpjacks nodding heavy heads in time

through California’s hypnotic central valley,

            until we arrived at our home for a night. Our unknown

                        host welcomed from every wall and pillow,

with nearly identical Christian sentiments, 

            cultivated and displayed in regular rows. God is love. 

                        You are loved. The embroidery says: Consider the lilies 

of the field, and I do, deciding he must have meant 

            meadow unless he was walking amidst a greenhouse 

                        with blooms grown only to be cut and Jesus was making 

a point about high-margin yields and pragmatic hands 

            more than the miracle of meadow. Below Yosemite’s 

                        cliffs, at the foot of its highest waterfall, we stand

by a stretch of green that when passed at 25 miles 

            an hour just looks like grass. To my suburban eyes a chore. 

                        But to others these blades are food, shelter, or baskets— deer

grass being what the Ahwahneechee tribes prized 

            for their weaving. Their preference tended not by plows

                        but by fire. The same flames we’re told sequoias need 

to open their cones, the seeds only unlocked by tongues

            that hollow their hulking trunks with burns so large

                        I could stand inside without bowing my head. I bent 

my forehead to bark and said thank you though I don’t 

            speak the electric tongue of trees whose roots we know now 

                        are not dumb but abuzz with warning or comfort or the gospel 

of rain. No sign of clouds in the sky today. Or maybe

            there’s a message I miss as I read that not many places 

                        have the right mix of soil, frequency of fire, and water 

to cultivate what to us seems wild. The grass 

            of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into 

                        the oven and he must have meant me, the unnamable blades 

that have thrived in the life I burned to the ground, 

            fire held fast in my own shaking hand, hesitant while 

                        chiding gospels scolded o you of little faith. How many

ways can a life rise from its ashes, I wonder. And the words 

            of Mark affirm: a meadow accepts itself as various. I look 

                        to the sky for a sign, some cloud in the shape of a need 

I cannot name. I test the wind with my tongue,

            as a torch song burns my lips, smoke filling 

                        my lungs with a longing to bow to the ground.

Erica Charis-Molling is a poet, educator, and librarian. Her writing has been published in Crosswinds, Presence, Glass, Anchor, Vinyl, Entropy, and Mezzo Cammin and is forthcoming in Redivider. She’s an alum of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University. She currently lives in Boston, where she works as Education Director for Mass Poetry.