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The Earth Is Rude, Silent, Incomprehensible

Jacques J. Rancourt

Now that we exist
on the other
side of desire,

when I tell you
I love you, I mean
we live

on a planet
that’s dying
& it’s no accident

the calla lily
is both the symbolic
flower for

weddings & funerals.
I thought loons
mated for life

& when one died
the other spent
her days calling

out to him across
the gray pond.
But once again,

you see,
I was wrong. Look,
I will be

honest with you:
when I promised
myself, I did so

knowing even
the sun will not last.
Look! The future

is pressing itself
so closely against
us it is already

leaving us
behind & to die
must make

the same sound
as the woman
I watched during

a rainstorm
thrashing a river
with a branch.

Could we make
the time pass
a little more

slowly? I want
to watch the fireflies
spark up the tallgrass

& the bullfrog,
that unrolls
its wide fat tongue

a thousand
frames per second,
thwap the fly

that flickers
before it with its
honey-thick spit.

I wrote "The Earth is Rude, Silent, Incomprehensible" last summer a couple of days before my wedding. It struck me, as I was writing my vows and preparing for the big day, that the rituals of matrimony are not so much focused on love but on death. My husband is ten years older than me, and the odds that I will be the one to comfort him through the end of his life are considerable. Additionally, as a gay couple who came of age during the worst years of the AIDS epidemic (him, especially), the notions of love and death are for us particularly and complexly intertwined. All these various thoughts solidified for me while revisiting Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" (where my title comes from), a poem we read at our ceremony that I had read a dozen times before, but never in this light.

Jacques J. Rancourt is the author of Novena, winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd prize (Pleiades Press, 2017), and the chapbook In the Time of PrEP (Beloit Poetry Journal, 2018). He has held poetry fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Rancourt’s poems have appeared in the The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri ReviewNew England Review, Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Best New Poets 2014, among others. He lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.