The Appleshaped Earth and We Upon It

Aurora Shimshak

After Walt Whitman and June Jordan

On Library Mall, new boots and leaky sneakers puddle-hop.
In dorms and apartments, 10,000 feet slip into socks,
while at campus daycare a 4-year old blows kisses
from the top of the slide. Outside, the busses release their air.

I call into this space the bus driver, her thoughts tending home,
tending love. As she waits for the light to change, the last ankle
lands safely on the sidewalk.

Is there a poem in this?

Here, those up before dawn, the snow plowers and public radio hosts,
the new parent, the second shift nurse, the cook
pouring custard for fudge bottom pie, the security guard
who washes his father’s hair.

In March, a man rides his bicycle to play piccolo in a snowsuit;
another in their wheelchair swerves to avoid the ice.
Here, the choreographer thinking in movements of bodies.

Is there a poem in this?

I call into this space those who think in layers of rock, in eons
and in rice crops, in the movements of Feminist film
and the movements of a musical score.

I want them all here—the climate scientist and the violence disrupter, the
prayer-rememberer and the prairie restorer, the bird mapper, the
greenhouse waterer, the curator of Japanese prints.

I call into this space the rural sociologists, the cows and their keepers, the
combine drivers and the counselors, the question-askers
and those just learning to question.

I call into this space the muralist in overalls and nose ring,
painting on State Street, those who said their names,
those who demanded we say their names, those who shout
and those who sing, those who document, those at the meetings,
those who bring first aid kits.

The engineer with bandaged wrists, the actor with fentanyl in their blood,
the man, not far from here, incarcerated, who would like, when he
gets free, to keep bees—you, all of you, are necessary in this space.

I call us all here and say:

May someone be there to catch you. Even you
who have always done the catching.
All of us need to be ushered and fed.

Not far from here, the Moundbuilders’ bird and water spirit.
Not far from here, the burial mound leveled to build Bascom Hall.
Here, a class will learn Menominee, learn Quechua;
Here, a student proofreads their parent’s English
Here, a playwright asks, What dream would you give your mother?

And someone is inventing a compost program,
someone is pulling carrots to hand to their peers,
someone is teaching how to plant a pea trellis.

The arboretum’s Korean maple, forsythia planted in corridors
to yolk-split in spring. Their fibers take in the sound of us—
our beltline, our TV show opinions, coyotes howling after sirens.

What has the earth taken in? This place has a story.
What poem will we make?


You can listen to Shimshak read her poem at the following link: 


Aurora Shimshak is a writer and educator from the hills of southwest Wisconsin. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She teaches writing to high schoolers, college students, and those incarcerated at Oakhill Correctional Institution. Her favorite spring ephemeral is the bloodroot. This poem was written for and read at the investiture of UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin on April 14, 2023.


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The Appleshaped Earth and We Upon It Copyright © 2019 by Aurora Shimshak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.