Happy Earth Day! April’s Writing of the Month comes from Elijah Santner, Age 15, of New Paltz, NY, who won a Gold Key this year for his poem that celebrates the very ground we walk on, “I Believe in Dirt”. You can watch Elijah read his winning poem aloud on YouTube. Enjoy!
I was thirteen years old,
when my science teacher told me that dirt was a bad thing.
She claimed that if it were a good thing, we would call it “soil”
I was always upset about that.
What gave her the right
to label one kind of Earthly matter better than another?
I would walk into class,
My shoes heavy with mud
That felt warm and bright under my
Discount rack sneakers
and she would say
“Elijah, you can’t come in here with all that dirt.”
And I wanted to say
If only you knew
What it meant to run with
Bare feet through soft fields in the early morning,
With the earth still damp
From the dew of the dawn.
I wanted to say
If you only knew what it felt like,
To skid your shoes in the dry cracked earth
And watch the dust
Float up like storm clouds.
If you had been born in the earthy decomposing leaves time and again
Creating yourself as a new person
If you had carved out your friendships
in the soft ground, and
Marched back home bearing the battle stains
of a thousand fights we imagined we fought…
And god knows we weren’t playing in soil.
Soil is what worms shit out when they have finished eating the dead;
Dirt is the stuff that you dig in searching for diamonds and crystals.
Soil is a thing chocked full of preservatives and fertilizers, something that you don’t step on for fear of killing the carrots.
Dirt is something you roll in; hiding from soldiers you dream up and dream away.
Soil is something you get on your hands,
but dirt is something you get in your mind.
Dirt is something you build a fortress out of, something you love in, something you live in, and it is the stuff that we die in.
So when you ask me why I’m not a scientist,
I say, “Because I believe in a world of dirt.”
Because I believe in the first layer of the world being a place to play in,
not a resource to be studied and mutated.
I believe in a world,
Where no one will tell my children
not to get their feet muddy because it would stain the rug.
I don’t want to be clean;
I want my fingernails black with the product of the ground,
not smelling of the over-ripe soap that sits next to a high pressure sink in a lab room.
I believe that if there is a god
He does not live in the sky,
but lives in the rich earth, just below the roots of the trees
and the subways and the sewers.
I believe in the stains and the grit of the ground.
In the power of mud and
The beauty of dust.
I believe in dirt.