Good Dirt (and other poems)

Good Dirt

Already I have tasted fire.
Tongue to tongue, 
I have licked
its heat and flame,
smelled hair
singed in my nose.

Already I have heard
the pop of skin 
after it blistered. 
Such pain I did not know
until the nerves went numb
from the bright explosion.

Let me tell you: 
Fire’s deepest secret
is a heart that has no color,
and in that heart,
the rumble and roar

When I die,
the tongues will lick me again,
only more fully
and only after my spirit
has already leapt.

Ashes from bone
make good dirt.

Stress Test

A phone call at the start
to slap me from sleep. Or

does it begin before,
when a gas explosion 

scorched my arm and face? 
Or before that with cells 

colliding like flint and 
steel to spark and grow? What 

nucleus of stress em-
bedded in Y and X 

to grow into that al-
most obliterating 

pitch dark passage of birth?
Or did this stress begin

generations back with 
blood of running and blood stopped?

Anyway, the call: We need 
more tests, the voice explains,

so, of course, I say yes.
Next day I wait alone

with Gideon’s black book
and Wheel of Fortune loud.

Then Nurse punctures skin to
plunge liquid into vein.
Nuclear isotopes, 
she explains. To get a 

better picture. We watch 
the tiny Chernobyls 

disappear. They’ll be gone 
in sixty hours, if you 

drink lots of water. I 
drink three cups and want more.

Next I lie to watch a space-
craft hover over chest 

beaming my heart across 
the galaxy of this room. 

Don’t move, Nurse warns before 
she leaves. So I stifle 

each cough, ignore all itches. 
The machine hums and clicks.

Minutes become eons 
until finally it stops. 

I breathe and scratch and cough
and think of the four s’s 

in stress test, hissing snakes 
of steam ssss-ing from valves. 

No nuclear explosions, 
yet. So I return to wait 

in a place invented 
by stress: cement compressed 

to pounds per inch; glass from sand 
burned clear; wood, wind-shaken, 

rings curling a dark heart—
all must pass. Or else. 

This is why I am here:
Once last month when I tried

to rest, my heart fluttered 
like a wren and then slammed 

the bone bars of my chest
for just a moment—

before it calmed, unlike
the panic in my head. 

At last, Doc appears 
while Nurse connects

electrodes and I tread 
the rolling mill. Your heart 

looks good, Doc says, then adds, 
So far. Soon I’m huffing, 

staring at a heart poster. 
I ask how the blood moves.

Doc says, This is the world’s 
best pump, proud like he made it. 

Man-made pumps are only 
a third as good. He taps.

Oxygen-depleted blood 
comes in here. His pen maps 

blood from heart to lungs to 
heart to brain. A closed system, 

nothing better. I’m sweating 
now and holding tight, steep 

ground whirring under foot. 
Yet I get no closer 

to that heart. I breathe hard,
watch the monitor with Doc. 

This looks good, he nods. Yours
went up real smooth, no hitch. 

I’m going to slow you down.
Soon I walk on flat ground.

The whirring dies. No more 
hurry to go nowhere. 

You’re fine, Doc smiles. No need
to invade this time.

A little arrythmia,
a hiccup of the heart.

At home, I hike the woods
to heave ax over and 

over, my body a pump 
that thunks each round of oak, 

riving the heart to reveal 
a salvation of sorts

and the slow truth of fire.


  • Jim Minick is the author of five books, the most recent, Fire Is Your Water, a novel. The Blueberry Years, his memoir, won the Best Nonfiction Book of the Year from Southern Independent Booksellers Association. His honors include the Jean Ritchie Fellowship and the Fred Chappell Fellowship. His poem “I Dream a Bean” was picked by Claudia Emerson for permanent display at the Tysons Corner/Metrorail Station. His work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Tampa Review, Shenandoah, Orion, Oxford American, and The Sun.

  • Altered images from 42nd Street, directed by Lloyd Bacon in 1933.