Everywhere is Archipelago, a song cycle by Emerson Eads, on poetry by Margaret Gibson, commissioned by soprano, Terri Eickel, has been published by North Star Music. Gibson, Connecticut’s Poet Laureate from April of 2019, “has created a voice and an art that connect the sensuous experience of the physical world with the inner life.” Gibson’s poetry revels in the sublime beauty of our natural world and hauntingly reminds us that our very existence on this planet depends upon us being stewards of the beauty around us.
My friend, Terri Eckel, commissioned me back in 2021 to set poetry by her favorite poet, Margaret Gibson, Connecticut’s Poet Laureate. I completed this set in March of 2022. As a student of John Luther Adams her poetry reminded me of his environmental activism. Gibson’s words celebrate natures serenity, sublimity, and absurdity, and in these stirring studies, she reminds us of our duty as guardians. I found the poetry both intensely beautiful and challenging. While getting to know this text, I had to research landforms, plant species, and famous physicists, but through the cerebral text I could always feel Gibson’s singing poetic voice, guiding me to the final double-bar. I like to think that when one sings this cycle they become the celebrant to an environmental liturgy in the cathedral of our natural world.
From the Very First, Not a Thing Is
Seen at a distance, at dusk in the glade
near the pond, two forms…
Two forms. Rounded. Bulky. Smooth
as a haunch of stone.
Why have I never before, by daylight, seen them
there in the lonely forest?
One of the boulders
raises its head from the ground this afternoon’s
light confirmed was a pied scatter, leaves
yellow and red over
tufts of newly sown grass, a fine silk green.
I lift my head in reply,
then continue to graze,
with them, the smell of the damp earth raw and comforting,
no sound but the ripping out of the earth
winter rye, like a seam
ripped, or a hem, let out because the child
has grown taller.
It is a moment as far away as my mother’s hand
Dipping into her sewing basket
for a thread, a moment whose over and under stitching
is as close as the lush steppes
of Asia, rippling lightly, just under
the shadowed sleeve of my loosely worn coat.
Because a red gash of it becomes poppies and dame’s rocket
Because it shields the dead as they undress
Because along the rim of the cattail pond, rain softens it
Because it is a rainbow, embedded
Because it is the basso continuo of pussytoes, earthworms, nomads and wheat
Because the exposed root of the oak tree rumples it,
and deer and fox and wood thrush write on it with different feet
Because it erases the wheel that ruts it, the plow that seams it open
Because an old woman, removed from her homeland, carries it with her–
a fistful of earth
in a mason jar whose blue-tinted glass becomes a hologram of sky around
the dust of her ancestors
Because into rain-softened mud a child has pressed her bare feet and learned
the weight of her presence
Because more than one woman has bedded her man, saying, “I am good soil
Because dirt is a greater philosopher than Plato– for whom the distant edge
of the field along a skyline was
merely the shadow of a more luminous line on which the mind might compose
Because I cannot step out of my body and must walk the field, each inch,
as it changes to woodland and ridge
mountain and the slow erosion of mountains into the plain
Because I must walk the milky way of the prairie at night and feel its surge
and flow change to gumbo and gully, arroyo
scour hole, fell-field, and meadow–
I praise the dirt: storehouse, grantor of ground and horizon, not the Source,
but its guardian
Beneath gender and hierarchy, beneath any division of labor, it continues,
despite our nooks and walls, boundaries and treaties
It is what gives and receives, outlasts us, and is.
The owl belongs to Athene, the coyote to no one.
Not to the winter belly of the dark,
in which I hear the one and many voices of coyote
lift and circle. Not even to the moon.
When I want to join in,
I open the kitchen door
and yip a little. How the woods fall silent then!
Not until the door clicks shut and I stand there
as if in a trance, listening, do they begin again.
Are they afraid of me? Or does my interruption
of their litanies constitute plain rudeness?
Who does she think she is?
But it’s the intimate
swirl, those high-pitched, rapturous interrogatives,
cries that lift out of a dark too deep for words–
it’s the tongue that flicks the hollow of my throat,
along the branching collarbone…
that’s the song that belongs to no one.
You know who you are. This is your song, too.
Even so, it’s a cold spring
I unroll the map of the watershed, and my fingers trace the blue
threads of the rivers
as I’d touch the veins on your throat
You chant kalmia latifolia pinus silvestris geum odoratissimum
as if you might travel once more the fresh land of the Choctaw
and the Creek,
as if the hooves of your horse, like Bartram’s, might splash red
with the juice of the trampled berries
We fill the gas tank, chart the wobble of the earth, its tilt,
the shape of its orbit
The words we taste– Milankovich, albedo– melt on my tongue
like the Greenland ice sheet
Hear the beat of the drum? That’s my heart.
Come now let us reason together
Because the honeycreeper
Because a bag of bones on a museam shelf in Mauritius
Because clouds thicken like swam gas in the marshlands
Because the fetus will not ripen
Because the relict trillium, and the tanager, and the wren
Because the solar flare of blackflies on your skin
Because the kestrel
Because peach orchard is a memory of mildew, ash blue
Because the fetus will not ripen
Because earth everywhere is archipelago
Because we taste the words. Because we taste the words
and they stick in our throats.
This song cycle is now published and available for purchase here: