It’s Clay All the Way Down

In Craft, Poetry by

A selection from our “Earth” call for submissions.
By Matthew Jones

Illustration by Justin Lau.

Back home, the earth was just clay.

I once took a shovel and dug a hole
straight down looking for fossils,
only to find that the entire Earth
was just rusted dirt, a strange hue
all the way down. I don’t mean
like the art teacher’s clean craft clay,
this was sandy, gritty, flavorful:
it stained the knees of my jeans
orange, my favorite color growing up
as I played out in the backyard.

My grandmother had a book
of Cherokee mythology, in it,
the author clearly describes creation:
Everything was once blue water.
Dayuni’si, the water beetle,
tired of the heavens, swam down,
and seeing that the bottom was clay
(all the way down), carried it up
bit by bit, the malleable mud
and carefully sculpted the land.
It made sense: I saw his work
forming the banks of the hills.

My dad and I planted a garden
in the middle of deadpan orange;
we added bags and bags of manure
and someone else’s living earth
to the soil, so that the zuchinni roots
would not suffocate for the compactness
all the way down in heavy clay.
However, the squashes struggled;
neither water from above nor a hose
could ever percolate through
into the impermeable plastic soil.

In Sunday School, we read the verse
about how God made man—
from the dust of the ground,
breathing into his nostrils.
Thus, I am solidly convinced
that if you dug a hole straight down
into me, you would discover
a heart that is just discarded pottery,
not a refined potter’s gray
but Wilkes clay, all the way down.

Matthew Jones’ poem “It’s Clay All the Way Down” is inspired by his time growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina. In the process of writing it, the 18-year-old mathematics major ended up researching soil maps and resources from NC State University “to learn about the soil types in [his] own backyard.” Poetry may seem a little different from his work as the Town of Blacksburg reporter for the Collegiate Times, but Jones sees some similarities. He ascribes to famed American poet Ted Kooser’s idea that “a poet is someone who actually witnesses something and truthfully reports back.” He recommends Kooser, as well as Elizabeth Bishop—especially one of her lesser known poems called “The Bight.” His creative process is tied to music. Jones wrote this poem late at night in Torgersen Bridge while listening to Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

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