I ask my students:
Are there too many people?
They’ve been raised on the problems
that come with overpopulation--
famine, poverty, and
To them, demography is destiny.
We go over the numbers:
7.8 billion and growing,
fertility rates—going down overall,
below replacement in some countries,
but still high in others,
especially those that are the poorest.
I rise early to pick beans and lettuce.
Kale and okra coming along,
cucumbers, grapes, and apples too,
all in my small patch behind the house.
I think of my students
and the semester that begins
in a month; of the numbers
and the data we will confront,
and the questions we need to ask:
Are resources distributed fairly?
What if each person had enough land
to grow the food they need?
Are we counting the right beans?
Kneel beside me in the garden
and feel the soft, moist dirt
warmed again after winter’s freeze,
turned and readied for planting.
Scoop it, feel it in your hands,
crush the clods in your palms,
squeeze the dirt through your fingers
until your hands are rich
with a black dermis of soil.
The earth is part of us,
in our psyche and our souls.
It is our past, our present, our future.
So, my sons, descendants of farmers
who wrote lives in the earth,
take this soil, hold it in your hands,
feel the moist warmth radiate,
and no matter what you do,
or where you go in life,
turn a spadeful of dirt each spring,
take the soft, warm earth into your hands
and feed your soul
Here is the link to Michael's video reading Spring Soil on his YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRv_AIRuJq0
And you can click on the link below to listen to Michael read his poem Counting Beans:
Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer and poet who lives in North Laurel, Maryland, where he also tends a small backyard garden in which he grows beans, lettuce, okra, kale, grapes, and apples. His poem, “We Grow the Revolution,” received an honorable mention in the 2019 Poetry X Hunger competition. His poem, “After Sterling,” received an honorable mention in the Maryland Writers' Association 2020 Poetry Competition and was published in Maryland in Poetry.