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Ariana Benson

An Ecopoet Talks about Land and Black Love in the South

In our brief conversation this past summer, Ariana discussed the impetus for her new collection of poems, Black Pastoral—a paean to her roots in the American South and to the complex histories and intimate relationships of Black Southerners with nature and each other in that homeplace. The poems also consider our urgent ecological crisis and the prospects for Black life and love in the future. —Sharan Strange  (This interview has been edited.)

Aubade After Earth

we wake only to growing 

bristles of heat. more undark

-ness than ante-light. no chirping 

trills to jumble the senses, 

to arrythmia night’s violet 

hum. no cygnets to rain 

trumpet sobs on tattered 

rooftops. no rain. no roofs. 

I miss the birds.


but it’s truer that you ache 

for their song. the score that lured 

seeds of luster into bloom. 

we haven’t been gone long 

enough to miss a thing more 

than what it made for us. here, 

we radiate a platinum sheen


—yet, in the smallest of mercies, 

we know ourselves, still, 

as Black. I fled 

just before the brimstone, 

left the world to salt 

herself over. 


I wonder what still lives

among the grains.


I would ask in earnest, but even if I had 

a spare dove, how cruel

to send it searching for a lone 

green star in the sparse constellation 

of what once was forest. 

of what was, once. 


that last night under the trees, you 

plucked a leaf from my hair, 

pressed it against my cheek. 

I threaded pine straw 

through the back and forth of its 

ribboned blade, the damp spire dyed

my fingertips the bronze 

of fresh regret.


sometimes I sleep 

with it behind my ear, the swell 

of your pulse still breaking

perfect as its sinus wave.

a few crooked notes—that’s all I had 

to offer in return. all I have sung since.

it’s just as well that I leave 

my voice to make shelter 

of your mind—somewhere 

it might survive.


what has apocalypse taught us

but how to love



Where do you go in the morning?


you feel me lying 

here, folded into the back 

and forth of you, but know I’m lost 

in those woods. you dread

the hour when my eyes glacier,

just before the demiblue thaws 

their whites. how long can we pretend 

this turn toward Earth’s still

-lit wick brings the same warmth 

as dawn, that fuming glow

could ever kiss with the soft lips 

of sunning sky?


what new life can there be

without forgetting

those given over

to flame?


I sigh,



and crumble the quiet,

confirm you have not dreamt 

my breath’s susurrus on the plain 

of your nape: a wind that passes

for honesty. for what 

I still know of it.

Ariana Benson, "Aubade After Earth," Indiana Review, Issue 44, vol. 1 (Summer 2022). Copyright © 2022 Ariana Benson. Republished with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Ariana Benson is a southern Black ecopoet. Their debut collection, Black Pastoral (University of Georgia Press, 2023) won the 2022 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. A 2023 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, Benson has also received the Furious Flower Poetry Prize, the Porter House Review Poetry Prize, and the 2021 Graybeal Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets. Her poems and essays appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, Poem-a-Day, Yale Review, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness. 

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