by Laura Grace Weldon
Nature teaches nothing is lost.
Spread between rows of beans,
last year’s rusty leaves tamp down weeds.
Coffee grounds and banana peels
foster rose blooms. Bread crumbs
scattered for birds become song.
Leftovers offered to chickens come back
as eggs, yolks sunrise orange.
Broccoli stems and bruised apples
fed to cows return as milk steaming in the pail,
as patties steaming in the pasture.
Surely our shame and sorrow
composted by years
into something generative as wisdom.
From Blackbird. Grayson Books, 2019.
Laura Grace Weldon’s poem reminds me of these lines from a Kay Ryan poem which shares a similar sentiment: “There could be nutrients/in failure.” It is a relief to believe that the time and energy we spend on emotions like shame, guilt, and worry are never “lost,” but are instead “transmuted” into something far more useful and nourishing. I know that the twenty years I’ve spent grieving the loss of my father have taught me more than I ever imagined about sorrow, and have made me (I hope) a more empathetic and present human being. As is often the case, anytime we fear and doubt the cyclical ways of human emotion, we can turn to the natural world–of which we are still a part, of course–and trace similar cycles and seasons to remind ourselves that we are beholden to laws more ancient and enduring than our passing thoughts. By following the litany of how compost transforms itself into earthly abundance and beauty, Weldon shows us hard evidence that “nothing is lost,” and none of what we’ve ever felt is wasted–as long as we truly feel it and release it. See how “rusty leaves” help “rows of beans” to swell and grow, how “coffee grounds and banana peels” become the delicate petals of “rose blooms,” and how simple “leftovers offered to chickens” turn into the sunrise of a deep orange yolk in the egg. Perhaps, Weldon seems to suggest, the most essential ingredient in this process is the trust that whatever passes through us, whatever we feel completely and let go of, is “composted by years” into “something generative as wisdom,” which not only feeds us, but can be shared with others when they need it.
Invitation: What experiences (of shame, sorrow, difficulty, regret) would you “compost,” if you could? If you’re writing, you might begin with the phrase, “I’d compost . . . ” and see where that leads you as you trust that “nothing is lost” or wasted.