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Friday, September 03, 2021


by Barbara Simmons 

Washington state became the first state to legalize natural organic reduction in May 2019; Colorado followed suit in May 2021; and Oregon became the third state to sanction human composting in June 2021. —Treehugger, August 24, 2021. "The powerful [California] Senate Appropriations Committee has held a bill that would legalize the composting of human remains. The bill, AB 501, was authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and had sailed through the Assembly with a unanimous vote.... Garcia said in a statement. 'This is another sad reminder that we must legalize a more environmentally friendly option like Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) as soon as possible. AB 501 will provide an additional option for California residents that is more environmentally-friendly and gives them another choice for burial.'” —Sacramernto Bee, August 30, 2021. Photo from Recompose, "a public benefit corporation powered by people who believe in changing the current death care paradigm."

I remember times when soil smelled rich,
a kind of coffee bean rich, a kind
of patchouli rich, a rich that flared my nostrils 
scenting the air with inhale more. 
The time we worked our garden soil 
composting it, the elements of peat and perlite
caking fingernails, our prepping
beds for rows and rows of plants
yearning for elements beyond clay. We dreamt
of growing foxglove, ferns and fuchsias,
entwining them with flowers mixing other letters
into soil with pansies, daffodils, impatiens.  
But it was always soil, prepared, that led to color,
soil inhabiting our very blood and bones, 
a deep affinity for dust to dust we have within,
rich dark coffee-colored soil, aromas lifting up and
taking us to early earth when scientists say the smell
was more like rotten eggs, rich with H2S. This richness lives
within me, my body’s future with the possibility of
decomposing into one cubic yard of soil,
along with wood, alfalfa, even straw, all
assisting me along the way to my new form, 
my inert self reduced to fragrant future supplements
for growing flowers after I have gone.
Something to think about, while legislators ponder laws
to handle soil that’s human-sourced. Right now, it’s not
Assembly Bill 501 I’m thinking of; I’m smelling soil, the
rich rich soil that flowers hunger for, the soil that’s fed
my soul, the gardening days when turning over dirt
was very much like leafing through a sacred text, 
when I’ve translated who I’ve been into the earth
from which I’ve come.

Barbara Simmons is a poet who celebrates the many worlds she inhabits using language to explore the ways we remember and envision. A graduate of Wellesley College, she received an MA in The Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins. As a secondary school English teacher, she revisited texts with students who inspired her thinking about communication's diversity. Retired, she savors smaller parts of life and language, exploring the world's stories in her poetry. Publications have included Santa Clara Review, Hartskill Review, Boston Accent,  The New Verse News, Soul-Lit, Writing it Real Anthologies, Capsule Stories Anthologies, and the Journal of Expressive Writing.  Her book of poetry Offertories: Exclamations and Disequilbriums will appear in 2022.