Liz N. Clift: "Dirt, Like a Lover's Hand on the Small of My Back"




In North Carolina, the last summer of my childhood

drought, I pressed my hands into an oil slick

of ultisol, learned pressure makes things bigger.

Nearby a blue farmhouse crumbled in on itself


and half-filled dump trucks stood sentry. My hands

smelled of clay and copper earth, glittered red,

and my mark stayed all summer, while

crabgrass died and ground fissured. I walked


by daily looking at my handprints, so much like

raccoon tracks in the creek bed, so much like

the Caterpillar tracks of heavy equipment

that leaked oil where a chimney used to be.


In Iowa, I plunged my hands into midnight

memories of prairie burns and wanted to leave

them there til harvest. Under starry skies, in prairies

of knee-high corn, I dreamed awake of bison


thundering open savannah, of how the land would look

covered by Big Bluestem, by sunflower, by swarms

of birds blotting out the heavens. I rolled west,

found volcanic rock that turned the horizon black


and prone to slides, found whispers of snow

on the Cascades in mid-August and rocks run smooth

by forgotten rivers. In southern Oregon, autumn smells of sage

and lavender, of hope golden as the trembling aspen


that blanket whole hillsides. Here, the horizon snowboards

on the flanks of mountains and the soil leaves silk

when rubbed between fingers, smells of fire.

I clambered the rim of Crater Lake, one snowy


November day, a blanket greying trees, bringing twilight

two hours early and from one rocky

precipice, I considered tumbling toward the lake,

because that seemed something like permanence.



Liz N. Clift holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Iowa State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Women Arts Quarterly Journal, The Postcard Press, and others. She lives in Oregon.