Poetry Moment: 'Heirlooms' by Ann Hostetler
Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.
This episode’s poem is “Heirlooms” by Ann Hostetler.
Ann Hostetler was born in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, and lived her early years in Scottdale, later attending Germantown Academy. She received her masters from Pennsylvania State University and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Hostetler is the author of two collections of poetry, Safehold and Empty Room with Light, and also edited the anthology A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry. She is professor of English Emerita at Goshen College where she taught literature and creative writing for 22 years and continues as editor of the Journal of Mennonite Writing.
As some of us seek a way to connect with our past and with the earth that holds all our ancestors, we turn to gardening and the act of growing what we eat. The speaker in today’s poem stops to consider why she takes the time to garden when she can afford to buy her produce at the farmer’s market. This leads to a contemplation of the body and the soul, a western dualism she rejects, and an ever-expanding metaphor of growth and death and rebirth.
What fruit will grow from plants named
Green Zebra and Golden Jubilee, I wonder,
as I dig holes and scrape soil around the roots
of seedlings? Why do I bother gardening
when I can buy fresh from the farmer’s market?
Hands deep in soil, I inhale the scent
that rises from the wet June earth
between my thighs. Sweat streams down
my husband’s back as he spades,
moving his lean torso, stomping on the blade.
Stooping to retrieve a pebble, our last child—a toddler
—reveals the fine tip of hair gathered at his nape.
All my life I’ve tried
to live as though the body were the soul,
as though planting and reaping were prayer.
Is this what we’ve been given?
Perishable bodies to nurture
the soul-kernel. Earth to absorb
the rotted fruit, compost for the seeds
of next year’s volunteers.
That was “Heirlooms” by Ann Hostetler.
Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at WPSU.org/poetrymoment.
Music by Eric Ian Farmer.