Parts to Whole: A Composting Sestina | Teen Ink

Parts to Whole: A Composting Sestina

November 27, 2010
By Rosina PLATINUM, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Rosina PLATINUM, Ann Arbor, Michigan
23 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Now here they lie, a forgotten
bright collage of tired bits
and desolate pieces. Once, far from this silent
grave, an orange tree thrust out its arms to welcome the wind.
Grass whistled, cardboard stood sturdy, roots helped beauty grow.
But they are rinds now, scraps and tatters, skin pitted and dark.

We pass them by, leave them for dead. But below the surface, buried in the dark
rich soil, the workers sense a pulse. They are small, these builders, and often forgotten.
Tiny, and yet they always toil, split and weave old into new, push life to grow.
Damp coffee grounds fall like hail, browning leaves and bits
of once-life lie listless, moved only by the wind,
these are their materials. The workers observe, silent.

Fueled by straw and crisp-curling leaves, equipped with silent
celery-stalk battering rams to break down the great dark
lumps of manure, relying only on wind
and heat and their own power. Amazing, yes, but this forgotten
miracle takes place each day. There is a place for everything: all the bits
that have been thrown away will once more grow.

Carefully they sever the bonds; the heat and acids grow
and turn the pile into an unbearable furnace. The silent
sounds grow suffocating; the tiny laborers long for even little bits
of merciful oxygen in the long deep dark.
And to think their work is forgotten
from food webs: an injustice! Then finally, a breath of eternal wind.

The fungi, factory workers, spring to life, revitalized by the healing wind.
They spread speedily over sawdust and sour grapes, the scraps grow
to a satisfying, earthy whole. No longer can their efforts be forgotten,
for here is the fruit of their intricate, silent
labor. The compost is the dead brought to restore life, to hold the soil steady. How dark
and beautiful it is, this mosaic, a masterpiece recycled from mere bits!

Nutrients, small gleaming bricks, are layered through the heap. Bits
will be used by vines heavy with tomatoes; others by flowers throwing petals to the wind.
Paper becomes a tree, escaping the dark
dirty landfills not far away. Plain potato peelings grow
to mighty palms and bright blossoms, too vivid to be forgotten.
Again the decomposers prepare, satisfied and silent.

Generations of life, silent shrubs and singing children, survive on simple bits
of life. And these tiny forgotten pillars of the earth, undefeated by wind or howling rain
will continue in their quest to make us grow, to feed the world, until the sun goes dark.

The author's comments:
I wrote this poem as an extra-credit assignment for my biology class. This form of poetry, the sestina, repeats the six final words of each line in every stanza. I chose this form because the words are “recycled” and used for new purposes- much as nutrients are recycled during the process of composting.

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