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Earth Care
by Martin Willitts Jr

I worked every summer on my grandparents’ farm
where they were using the old methods of hand
plowing, rotating crops, using manure in the soil,
never hearing the word organic. Earth-care was a part
of fulfilling God’s plan, a kind of prayer, greeting
each day before the sunrise and staying up past
starburst nights watching daily creation.

I tended to the barn animals, pulling milk into a pail
or searching for eggs, before pushing the plow.
I was too young to know about the fragile nature of earth,
the interconnectedness of land and water, mass extinctions,
but I was conversant with the language of the bees.

What I knew was rotate crops, plant seed, trust irrigation,
withstand grandmother’s interrogation: did I thank God
when I opened the land, and did I praise the seed
before covering it? When the crops were ready, we thanked
the plants for their offerings. Every praise was gratitude,
respecting the land. I never heard of crop dusting,
herbicides, or large farm monopolies.

Planting with intention means being intentional,
aware some plants deplete the soil,
and some plants work together with other plants.

As an adult, I learn not everyone respects the land —
tearing mountain tops for strip mining, dumping
toxic waste, using neon lights that hide the night sky.
Water levels rise with excuses. All I can do is
plant some trees, start community gardens, and hope
people younger than me are smarter than my generation.
Earth care is human care. At night I ask, “What else can I do?”

I keep receiving suggestions.

PAINTING: Pasture with Barns, Cos Cob (Connecticut) by John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I started working on my grandparents’ farm when I was five. When I was 17, I was drafted, my grandparents died one day apart from each other, and the farm was taken by the bank. I wrote about my farming years in Harvest Time (Deerbrook Editions, 2021). For years, I never stayed in one place for very long, until about 2009 when I finally had a house to grow food and healing plants. All the earth-care I had learned as a child is now called organic and free-range. But over the years, I have seen the destruction of the land affecting my small space. When I moved in, the soil was grey and didn’t contain any nitrates, but, with my training, I made the soil rich again in a few months. The first sign of life was the return of worms and crickets. But, still, the weather is changing and I’m trying to keep pace. ¶ Food that I grew back in 2009, became impossible two years later. The first vegetable to be harmed was broccoli, and years later five other plants don’t have the right weather conditions to grow. This is visual proof of the harm to the environment. A couple years ago, I noticed food insufficiency and started community gardens. This year I was group planting trees. At my age, it is getting harder to do big projects, so I am looking for small, manageable ones to keep trying to help the soil. ¶ I swear, sometimes I hear the earth’s pain. The only thing I can do is do whatever I can as long as I can. I want a better future for children.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martin Willitts Jr, edits the Comstock Review and judges the New York State Fair Poetry Contest. His work has been nominated for 17 Pushcart and 13 Best of the Net awards. His awards include: Winner of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Poetry Contest; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2015, Editor’s Choice; Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, Artist’s Choice, 2016; Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, 2018; and Editor’s Choice, Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge, 2020. His 25 chapbooks include the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award winner The Wire Fence Holding Back the World (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 21 full-length collections, including Blue Light Award winner The Temporary World. His most recent book is Harvest Time (Deerbrook Editions, 2021), and his forthcoming collection is All Wars Are the Same War (FutureCycle Press, 2022).