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Chard deNiord: I stand beneath the mountain with an illiterate heart

“We have to feel our own evolutionary roots and to know that we belong to life in the same way that other animals do and the plants and the stones…The real nature poem will not exclude man and deal only with animals and plants and stones, but it will reach the connection deeper than personality, a connection that resembles the attachment one animal has for another.”

                                                                        Galway Kinnell


I stand beneath the mountain with an illiterate heart

and imagine the clouds as angels.

They are singing a silent song that we can hear somehow

because it’s also echoing inside us where a valley 

I call my “hearts and minds as one” hears and hears 

and understands, where my eyes also hear and hear

from seeing and seeing. The Earth is crying.


I stand beneath the mountain with an illiterate heart

and listen to the hermit thrush I cannot see in the brush

and try to call back to in my human voice that makes

no sense to him, so I hum instead with the valves

of my voice believing in sounds more than words

to tell the truth in a musical code that pierces the woods.


I stand beneath the mountain with an illiterate heart

and watch the animals and plants disappear. 

They are being sucked through a hole in the sky.

I’m waiting to go. A year is a day. 

The reel to reel is wailing.

I stand beneath the mountain with an illiterate heart

and listen to the wisdom of wind in breezes and blasts. 

The animals “do not bother to say good bye.” 


I stand beneath the mountain with an illiterate heart

that can only marvel at but never know creation’s alphabet.

The darkness of my sacred ignorance enlightens me. 

Where to go and what to do in the face 

of a face that seeks to place only itself before it? 


A voice cries out from the mountain’s summit: 

“Lie down again before the lords of Earth and let them creep

all over you. Let just one of them speak for all the others 

the way they do.” When I say we can’t, she whispers back, 

“You must. Just listen to the voice inside the song 

of every animal plant and stone. It’s the chorus 

called beauty. It’s the list we were born to keep adding to. 

No one who fails to see himself in a fox or fly or drop 

can speak for another, although his voice may boom 

like thunder in a crowded hall, although he may charm 

a throng with empty words, although he may think 

the shadows are real on the wall.” 


So, I squeak, then howl in response to a toad 

called golden, to a parakeet called Carolina, 

to a tiger called Tasmanian. “Our time is short,” 

I bellow like a buffalo to the wall in Washington. 

“Each letter of Earth is so inscrutable I know 

I’m living forever when I behold them. 

I must do what I must to save them. 

Today is tomorrow.”

Author’s notes: The line: “Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth” is from the 5thcanto of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself.” 

The phrase “they do not bother to say goodbye” is from Hayden Carruth’s poem “Essay”. 

Copyright 2019 Chard deNiord. The author read this poem at the Feverish World Symposium in the fall of 2018 as part of his introduction to Bruno Latour’s keynote speech/presentation.

Peaceable Kingdom, a series of 61 paintings by American folk artist Edward Hicks started in 1820.

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