Judy Jordan

It Happened at Wind Sings, Trees Whisper Farm
September 15, 2011 Jordan Judy

It Happened at Wind Sings, Trees Whisper Farm


The wind, broken and wild,

lifts the plastic from the frame with a bellows

like the flood-driven river pitching and plummeting over the falls,

then slams it back down,

shuddering and pounding the whole frame

so I think it’s a window

to a different time, a different place,

like when I was a child in a house as ordinary as any house of the poor

but on land people called the ghost woods,

that place of mystery, of awe, of absence,

of the unexplained where the dead refused to rest


and I a child who knew no better,

was never afraid,

except of my own bed and that woman who came at two-twenty every night.


They all came,

doing what all ghosts do,

moving furniture, unlocking doors, pacing the floors,

linoleum square to black linoleum square

though I never knew if their outstretched hands were an offering

or a gesture of need.


Every night I left buttered bread and saucers of milk

and was sure the cleaned dishes were as good as words

strung out from them to me but it didn’t stop

that woman who lived and died years before I was born

from screaming at me that it was her room,


so I slept on the living room’s red-vinyl couch

where there was nothing to scare me,

not chairs scraping across floors

or walls falling away to trees

hoarding their own shadows in the night

as men in linen suits, women in circled cloth

strolled arm in arm on the lantern-lit lawn,

and in the living room, victrola, music

I now know was eighteenth century dance.

The couples in their intricate patterns,

slide, step, step and twirl,

partner to partner, arm catching arm,

never a missed step

until I’d move, sit up, cough,

and in the sudden silence

they’d stop and turn and look at me

and it was still beautiful

as if that too had been choreographed,

those women in their ringlets,

the smooth-faced men straining in their fine clothes,

all of them suddenly gone and only the beige walls and me, alone.


Almost every night the same

and every night something as small as a sniff, a twitched shoulder,

would leave me lying there in the stillness

with nothing but the magnolia nestling its cream-faced babies,

leathery leaves clattering in wind,

the lawn’s faint pulse layered in light.




Strange, the small stones of silence we carry though our lives.


All those years the nightly dance belonged only to me

as did my certainty that each small thing

lived and breathed its own small breaths

whether an oak, the yellow-bellied sapsucker tearing at the bark of that oak,

a blade of grass or the dragonfly clinging to its edge.

Even my short-handled hoe, the chairs in which I sat


though even then I knew that some things could not be allowed to be true

and still be lived through


which is why I promised myself I’d tell no one

about the spiders, the granddaddy’s,

that afternoon I’d duct-taped rips in the dingy plastic,

tossing the scrap and torn pieces of tape aside

until I was finished and saw them, nearly a dozen,

stuck, each on its separate scattered wad of tape,

their free legs, eye-lash delicate, waving, frantic,

entire bodies straining

at what must have seemed to them

an earth gone suddenly strange.


What happened, but of course,

legs circling and tangling, the pull of their bodies

I could feel in my own,

one leg freed, two new ones stuck or a newly freed one

stuck again and me with a sewing needle, between a stuck leg and the tape.

It all seemed so random,

chaotic, like a child in frustrated hysterics, legs anywhere and everywhere,

until I did what people do,

when we talk to those we know don’t understand,

telling dogs to stay off couches, begging bees to not sting:

I scolded, keep still, and told the spiders

to move their legs out of my way;

point them, I said,

gesturing, the way people will, away and up, even pointing myself.

But here: the thing I know I should not say: They did.

I wouldn’t believe it either.

But I swear.


There they were. One at a time, legs still, pressed together in military precision,

pointing off into the blanched sky

like a seven-gun salute,

the long-legged in my hand, and when that one was freed,

the next wad of tape, the next spider.


One by one,

they scurried off, the five-and six-and the lucky few seven-and eight-legged ones

disappearing into the weeds and mint around the greenhouse foundation.


I don’t know what to do with it either. This world we share

with the smallest protozoa, buffalo who ice skate,

weeping elephants, seizure-alert dogs, and, oh, how many

human lives saved? Harvest flies, red-eyed cicadas and jumping spiders,

the stone on the river’s mossy banks, gray with lichen,

the stone tumbling in a hard current toward a far field,

this other-than-human,


this multitude of intelligences,


which we lack, of which we are so needful,

this thing which so frightens us we must enter the gates of heaven

clothed in skins of animals,

clothed in sorrow and sin,


and when the known world tilts and lurches

from its orbit and we swing wildly between earth and sky,

what to do

but hope for the green hand

up through ground

to grab,

to hold us on.


Judy Jordan’s first book of poetry, Carolina Ghost Woods, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award, the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award, the Oscar Arnold Young Book Prize of the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and the Utah Book of the Year Award for Poetry.  A book-length poem, 60 Cent Coffee and a Quarter to Dance, was released in 2005 by Louisiana State UP.  Her third manuscript, Hunger, which centers around two years of semi-homelessness during which she lived in a half-collapsed greenhouse is with Louisiana State UP.  A vegan, Jordan currently lives off-grid, surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest in a Thoreau-size cordwood cabin she built herself and is completing an eco-friendly, passive solar heated, hybrid earthbag and cob house. She is nearing completion of a fourth book of poetry and is working on a memoir and a work of non-fiction concerning global climate change. She is a professor of poetry at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.