Literary Hook: Poem: Keeping the earth rich by letting it go fallow

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

The Midwest has a wide range of weather along with its rich earth. One way farmers keep the earth rich is by letting it go fallow from time to time. It’s like a big Sabbath for the earth. I was struck by the possible symbolism, which eventually showed up in this poem.


The fallow field absorbs the rain,

which turns its soil deeper brown.

The farmer has left it unplanted

until the elements have nourished

just the right environment for growing.

The wise farmer does this by intention.

I remind myself of this when friendships

strain and blow like parched topsoil.

Or when a surprising impasse enters

a conversation or a project, I try

to leave it alone for a while. This,

despite what psychologists may say,

is not passive-aggression. Sometimes

waiting is just waiting, which requires

intentional patience and hope for rain.

I remind myself of that intentional farmer

when writer’s block makes my mind shrivel

like a dry field, sprinkled only with weeds,

not one worth picking. I have learned

to let my mind go fallow. After all,

all things need a rest. Even marriage

needs a recess now and then.

The trick is to lie down in your own corner

on your own blanket and take a nap.

In marriage we are all kindergartners.

A nap is like a fallow field,

empty and ready for renewal.

Love that lasts will have its barren patches.

Once I planted milk pod seeds deep in the soil.

The first year they lay fallow. Not one

sprouted in the garden. Two years later

dozens nestled near the phlox

and sunflowers. Today monarchs lay eggs

on milk pod leaves. Butterflies are hatching.

First published in Chiron Review, Kansas.

Christine Swanberg has published about 300 poems in 70 journals and anthologies. Her books include Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity (Wind Publishing, Kentucky), The Red Lacquer Room (Chiron Publishing, Kansas) and The Tenderness of Memory (Plainview Press, Texas).

From the Aug. 24-30, 2011, issue

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