One-Straw Revolution

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 9 No. 2, "Festival: Celebrating Southern Literature." Find more from that issue here.

for Mab and the Dragon

Scattering straw maintains soil structure and enriches the earth so that prepared fertilizer becomes unnecessary. This, of course, is connected with noncultivation. My fields may be the only ones in Japan which have not been plowed in 20 years, and the quality of the soil improves with each season . . . the surface layer, rich in humus, has become enriched to a depth of four inches during these years.

- Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution


It’s traditional to talk revolution:

men have been doing it

for years. This year we

have been listening. We have seen

too many of our friends die

for being dark, or poor, or loving.

We know we may be next, any day.

And so we listen, and in the streets

we hear old mills grinding pain

into the taste of blood.


There’s a formula for revolution:

first you choose a flag, and then you die

a hero in the streets. Only the color

of the banner changes. My favorite

was the green. You remember.

That was the different battle, the one

to feed the world. Brave new plants

would blossom in the fields

and children would grow sleek

as new rice.


That was a lifetime ago. Now

we understand the old plants are lost,

the new seed cannot be saved. Each year

the hybrids must be bought,

and machines to plant and harvest,

and chemicals to burn the ground.

It was all designed that way:

Ford tractors and DuPont mud,

mainlining efficiency and poison.

Machines need room to grow,

so small fields become large:

the hedges are removed. Weeds and birds disappear,

tractors and wind move the earth at will.

People too are surplus. They go

to the cities to make more,

and on the streets

little girls make what they can

of life before they die.


This year the talk is revolution,

a quick shot to save the world.

This year we are listening. 


We want to believe this time

it will be different. This time

the change will last

beyond the killing. Dreaming

in the night, I remember

they have done this before, and

it has never changed enough.


I hear there are women in the west

teaching their children to eat

cactus, and in the east

an old man is building

a world of straw. I think

there are worse things than growing

old and poor and dark,

worse things than loving

straws before the wind.


On opposite ends of the country you

my friends are plotting revolution.

In the west you spent your day

showing one more person how to live

a little out of line. Years ago

you kissed me and I walked out

further than you could go, but you

caught up with wonder.

And you in the class

are teaching poems and novels

and how to listen to what isn’t

said, and how to say it. You heard me

into being, and still do.

With you I have learned

we don’t always know what

we have planted or how

the harvest will come; But I know

we are making a new land.


You in the office, you in the class,

I in the hills, each of us

in her own garden, we will work

by the moon, by the month and year.

We will be slow and strong

as the moon pulling on the grain.

We will grow darker and tougher

and bitter as weeds pulling strength

from deep roots; we will bloom the colors

of all flags, and live as long

as we can.


Down in the garden

I am talking to the spiders.

Eat well, spin healthy webs. I hear

there are locusts coming.


This is how we make a revolution

that lasts: Do nothing

that is not necessary. Trust the weeds.

Avoid the quick fix. Lay down one straw

and another, and keep on living.