Poetry - Issue 15 | June 2012

Teresa of Avila Compares the Soul to a Palm Cabbage

by William Kelley


Teresa of Avila Compares the Soul to a Palm Cabbage

1910: Tamanrasset, Hoggar, Algeria

The soul is a conglomerate of crystals,
Teresa wrote, a castle of many rooms. 
I fear mine is not so clear, or orderly,
or grand, but earth-enamored,
cluttered, and black—black as basalt,
black as the whip-stitched threads
that bind and the stains that mar
this notebook I’ve sewn from ruffled old envelopes
and ragged paper scraps.  The sweat of my brow
discolors its pages, as do the oils

of the many fingers that deliver my mail,
and blood from when I sharpened
my thumb instead of the pencil’s lead. 
Upon these uneven pages, I amass
the observations that I treasure:
weather patterns, well surveys, Tuareg proverbs,
the uses of camel’s milk, and hide, and hair. 
And again, the soul is a palm cabbage
with several rinds; she peels them to find
the kernel where God lives.

Here in Tamanrasset, the ground is
a malicious father, giving us stones,
but no palms or wheat.  To expand my list
of minerals, I hire two Tuareg boys in loincloths. 
For thirty grams of couscous, canceled stamps,
and a drawing lesson, they bring me
a bag of strange rocks.  Urging the boys
to shield their eyes, eager for chalcedony
and agate, the least flake or spark, I raise
my hammer, then shatter the feldspar.


About the author

William Kelley Woolfitt goes walking on the Appalachian Trail or at his grandparents’ farm on Pea Ridge, West Virginia whenever he can. He is in his third year of PhD studies and is the author of The Salvager’s Arts, co-winner of the 2011 Keystone Chapbook Prize. His poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, Shenandoah, and Sycamore Review, among others.

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