Awhile back, I wrote this mini-essay for a literary calendar project a friend of mine was putting together.
Today, in the snowy Catskills, I happened upon it and thought it might be fun to reprise it here. At this phase of the year, the tactile pleasure of handling earthworm-y compost is a fond memory, buried under a foot or so of snow; these days, a trip to empty the compost is a vaguely life-threatening battle with deep snow and icy patches.
I miss the sight, smells, and yes, sounds of robust mid-summer soil. In that spirit, herewith, alongside my freshly unearthed meditation on compost and poetry, are some "action shots" of my beloved compost pile taken over the past couple of years.
In my compost pile at this very moment are: eggshells, a rotted zucchini, strawberry hulls, hot pink earthworms, fish bones, onion skins, hardworking ants, an old copy of The Joy of Cooking, aged cow manure (hauled in buckets from a farm pile 10 miles away where I force my girlfriend to take me every summer), deadheaded daffodils, weeds whose names I won’t bore you with, teabags, and the shredded drafts of old poems.
I love the idea of my words returning to the earth, since the inspiration for much of my writing and more and more of my living is the world of nature.Compost Happens, says a popular bumper sticker, but I think of compost the way I think of poetry: a process of thoughtful addition, disciplined editing, experimentation, and alchemy. Just the right amount of attention is required: too little, and you get a cold pile of nothing; too much, and you overwork the magic. Words squirm together on the page and life is born, but if the artistic choices aren’t right, you wind up with a stinking anaerobic sludge.
Like compost, writing should startle and surprise. My compost pile has revealed spotted salamanders, red-bellied snakes, handsome toad-elders, iridescent beetles, moles, voles, stupendously handsome red-bellied snakes, and luminescent worms so thin they’re barely there at all—each and every one of these animalitos de dios evoking a sense of gratitude and awe akin to the very best (and rarest) moments of creative pursuit. Like writing, compost is deep.
Composted asparagus deciding it doesn't want to be compost. (Yes, I replanted it.)
Composted almond deciding to give it a go.
A snail "riding the wave" of an old cookbook.