Tara Ballard

Okay, Rumi, I Am Here

in the field, shading my eyes with one hand.
I scan the perimeter,
through and between caper bushes,
unpicked fruit dropping to earth hard
as the pop of M-80s thrown against metal doors.

There is, you said, a field beyond wrong and rightdoing,
and you said here you would meet me.

Above this length of open space, there are no clouds—
which, by this point, surprises me not at all.
For months, Rumi, the sky is blue.
I have seen nowhere like it.
For months, nothing falls that nourishes.

And I am here—
I have walked from one end to the other,
past the lone olive tree, curve of its trunk
evidence of both bombardment and age, past the scattering
of half-broken limestone blocks, toppled and taken over
by the birth and rebirth of grass.

My right foot I have pricked against thorns
I wade through, spikes golden as August afternoons and no less painful.
At the tip of my toe, a crimson bead like a single seed of pomegranate.

Rumi, I come here because I don’t know where else to go.
I come here because I daily drown in water politics and watchtowers.
I come here because you said
you would meet me, you would find me,
we could fix this,
                                          but there is no one
save a queue of ants—ants who drag behind them
a hornet dead, body more prone to breaking than the fold of an old letter.

The taste of grit and dirt on my tongue, Rumi, it has lasted weeks,
and no matter how many liters of lemon and mint
I drink, there is no quenching:
my tongue is thick with it.

Something in my sandal stings.
I bend down and brush the six-legged irritant away,
antennas reaching like the arms of a messenger
who brings a report from far villages—
but what to do with more news, I don’t know.

My tongue is thick with the present, Rumi.
Tell me you understand how heavy it is here.



How Not to Give in to a Pandemic

Startle awake the window shades like the season’s first petunia.
          Before sunrise,
hold a gathering of raw beets to your nose.
Allow its magenta to drench your palms because you, too, are birthed from soil.
Mouth blessings through the window in your library until you hear the drip of snow
          melt from your rooftop.
Unwrap each potato.
Pyramid their dirt-rough skins.
Welcome the first fly of spring: alive and wings and hum against the glass.
Journal the quotidian like starlings who settle onto bare branches of the nearby cottonwood,
          their whistles familiar as youth-made laughter.
Measure red wine vinegar like you once measured a clock’s worth.
From ice-chipping onion and cabbage, pause—place Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14
          in C-Sharp Minor, Opus 27 No. 2 on repeat. Three times. Maybe four.
Turn the volume up.
Sway slowly, right to left, in the center of what has become your ballroom.
Close your eyes.
Imagine a tangerine.
Imagine a fruit-bearing tree—long season of growth.
Encourage yourself to run come skylit evening, ready sneakers at the door.
Return to the kitchen and choose a trinity of bay leaves.
Turn the pot on low, understanding how the hours marry.
Grab the novel you halfway devoured, curl into the couch like a warm-drawn bath,
          and marvel—(How are words not like water?)
Leave the dill and cream—patient—on the counter.
Trust the borscht to do what borscht has done for centuries.


Tara Ballard has returned home to Alaska after eight years in the Middle East and West Africa. Her collection House of the Night Watch (New Rivers Press) won the 2016 Many Voices Project prize in poetry. Her poems have been published in Consequence Magazine, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Spillway, Tupelo Quarterly, and other literary magazines, and her work received a 2019 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize.