Earthly by Erica Funkhouser is a book of elegant poems that deals with the natural world around us and how our interacting with this natural environment—and the people we meet within it—shapes our thoughts and actions.
The book is divided into three parts. The first section includes 15 poems on a variety of subjects. The second section of the book features the main poem in the collection entitled “Pome,” which is a treatise on “apples” and the culture surrounding apple sowing and farming. The third section features sonnets. These are, in essence, a tribute to the poet John Donne’s sonnets.
The poems in the first section of Earthly sparkle with a controlled vibrancy. These are poems with an eye on the every day, and involve the things we do on earth daily – what we see, what we engage in. The poems in this section talk of our earthly existence and the value of living in this physical life.
The poem “Gardener, as Seen from Above” portrays the beauty of dignified, simple gardening and how one can become so absorbed in the activity that they find an earthly bliss in so doing:
She will look down and down on earthliness
Of note in this first section is the poem “What the Granite Said.” This poem conveys the sentiment that some things are sometimes better left untouched—that they should remain in their original pristine state.
Until she finds its veined, transparent species:
Another fine poem in the first section of this collection is the poem “Charles Street, Late November.” I love the great last line showing the thought processes of a man “on the edge of death,” who remains hopeful that his life will continue:
I wait as he chooses
The focus poem of the collection, “Pome” takes up the entire second section of Earthly. This extended piece consists of 15 poems on the theme of “apples.” The first poem in this section, entitled “The Apple Crate,” alludes to the history of apple farming in the region:
a pocket date book for the coming year.
The orchards of Chebacco go back
The poem “Chebacco: Inception” talks of how farmers brought their seeds to the land, saving the seeds from the apples they ate as they crossed the Atlantic to their new home. In “Pome,” the poet highlights the daily activities that take place on a farm: the beautiful, organized, productive monotony of planting, growing, harvesting and getting apples to market.
to the first turning,
the first tilling,
a thousand alewives to an acre,
The poet also alludes to the story of Johnny Appleseed in poems in this second section of her collection. In the poem “Journeyman”, she says
he carried his fruitful mash –
This poem highlights the belief that patience in planting an orchard and tending it will eventually pay off—it will bear fruit. This is a metaphor for life as well; if we use our talents and gifts wisely, we also will bear fruit in our lives.
300,000 seeds to a bushel.
A beautiful poem in this section is “Chebacco: The War of Independence”. Especially poignant is how a young wife deals with the death of her farmer husband, who went to war and died in the battle of Bunker Hill. She wonders how she will tell the bees of his death, as he was a beekeeper who had hives on their farm. This is a thoughtful look at the way war and destruction impacts families.
The final poem in this section, “The Orchard,” traces the lineage of apples back to their beginnings as seeds in some farmers “star-shaped cabinet.” This poem talks of “beginnings” and what can result from humble beginnings.
The final section of Earthly houses more elegance. Highlights in this section include “Imaginary Friends,” a poem about the radio playing at night in the bedroom of two young sisters. Another fine poem is “Emergency Room’ and its ruminations on death.
I especially enjoyed the poem “The Pianist Upstairs.” It deals with the peacefulness and integrity of music to console us in times of distress. This is shown in the line
The world’s at war and he breaks into Brahms
Earthly is an airy book of poems that is all-encompassing as it deals with living life against the backdrop of the natural environment—an environment that shapes the destinies of many who choose to embrace the land as their way of making a living.