I’m Turning a Phrase

My pen tends
this word and that as
seed in need of
field – aching for a
place to land and
fertilizer to lavish it
with a just-so adverb or
participle or preposition, as the
case may be.

I’m turn a phrase like
soil in spring; I’m upending a potato
hill in autumn, pregnant with pause, as
my hoe, my pen leads my hand
away from knowing and into
Dirt: life’s cradle, death’s bed.

Dirty Fingers

One of my plans for Christmas holidays was to replace the plants in my office. They have served me well for a number of years but have grown weary. So yesterday my wife and I went plant shopping. We pulled into Sheridan Nurseries on Ottawa Street in Kitchener. It is really rather magical place to visit at this time of year. The air is moist and warm, calling to mind summer’s luxuries. A display of orchids welcomed us in and invited us into a different space, a different time in the midst of January, with its own peculiar pleasures and pains. Some song birds flitted about. Water features babbled. Shoppers entered a kind of dream state in this womb like locus, this place called “nursery.“

We wandered around a bit, finally settling on a couple of smaller clusters of Codiaeum plants (what a delightful string of vowels in that name!) along with a coupler of smaller plants (a cactus and small rubber tree like plant with yellow speckles – alas I don’t know the name). I happily paid a modest fee for joys both experienced and anticipated. We chose a good day for plant buying with a break in the weather after the week’s record lows in Southern Ontario. Yesterday the temperature hovered a bit below freezing – much warmer than the day before – but still, I sensed that these tropical transplants shivered a bit in the car as we made our way home.

My wife and I worked to pull together the two batches of the Codiaeum plants into one pot. This was really rather marvelous. Digging in dirt in January is an unusual luxury. We bought some potting soil, which simply smelled like the life that it is. It is not accidental, in my estimation, that the ancient Hebrew word for the human is Adam, which can also be translated as earth, or soil. As I gently pressed the soil to work in the newly potted planter, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had a fundamental source of life in my hands; outrageously complex, and yet sublime in its utter lack of pretension. The moniker “down to earth” is well suited for the character the phrase plays! While playing with the soil, my mind went to the Bible.

The creation story in Genesis Two has the Lord forming a body of dirt, and then breathing spirit into this shape formed from what has been called lifeless dirt. But soil is anything but lifeless. Indeed, Adam/soil is potent with life. As I read these ancient words, I imagine the Holy One bending down and putting mouth to dirt as new life is born. My lips didn’t touch this soil that hosts my newly acquired plants, but my fingers are still tingling with the experience. I sometimes wonder if something of God’s vitality landed in the soil itself, as well as the soil made human.

Next time you have occasion to get your fingers dirty, don’t pass up the opportunity. And as you indulge a little dirt, see if you sense something more – that Excess that leaves traces for those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, and with fingers to caress life itself.