Poetry Classroom: Life Outside

Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet Tania Runyan, author of A Thousand Vessels and Simple Weight. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Tania and each other, and write your own poems along the way.

Life Outside

To punish me, Adam has taken over
the trees: Don’t touch any this time.
He lets the ripe fruit fall and dissolve
in the grass. I envy those flies
that just ride their wings into sweetness.

What do I say? I wish I could return to the tree
and turn away. I wish we could lie
naked in a field and nibble figs.
Now my stomach stirs like rocks
in a river. I can only wait
for him to pull a few roots and toss them
over his shoulder: Eat.

He is becoming the earth again.
It sifts through his hair
and settles in the creases of his skin.
His back ripples under the sun
like the mountains baking in the distance.

Sometimes, he stops and looks up,
as if a voice were breaking
through the trees. For a moment I see
his eyes, then they float over my shoulder,
as if another woman stood behind me,
beckoning him toward paradise.

Photo by H.L.I.T., Creative Commons, via Flickr. Poem by Tania Runyan, author of A Thousand Vessels


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  1. says

    I’ve nearly fallen in love with this poem. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    To me, it represents a jilted lover. It’s as if the tree represents Adam’s flesh; its fruit, his emotion/attention and in turn, her sustenance; returning to the earth, a descent from the high of loving grace.

    My only reservation is: why is he punishing her? Or, does she just have a guilty conscience–her only means of explaining away the change between them?

    The imagery is natural and powerful. The voice is steady and sure despite her counterpart’s tepid, or otherwise non-existent, acknowledgements. Kudos!

  2. says

    Matthew, your comment brightened my day! Thank you so much for taking the time to look into imagery deeply. It’s powerful and humbling to write about these two. As for the punishment, well: what do others think? (The teacher in me can’t help herself.)

  3. L. L. Barkat says

    I think it is natural, his wanting to punish her, for whatever has happened (and really, we don’t know what it is, because one senses that these two are characters who represent someone/s else altogether. (The best poetry always does that. Speaks on multiple levels.)

    One of my favorite lines is “he is becoming earth again.” Oh, the way we sink back to the elemental when things go wrong. Or the way it can feel like death or disappearance. Or the way it can just be about feeling as if we are without what feels like sacred breath. So many ways to read it, to feel it.

    One gets the sense, too, that she and the fruit are kind of “one.” It’s all just going to waste now (and she identifies herself with fruit by calling up the figs)… by extension, her “ripeness” is always lost to him now.

    I could go on. This poem is really packed. Really love it. :)

  4. Elizabeth W. Marshall says

    I keep going back to the title and for me, Life Outside speaks to separation from God, outside of Paradise because of the original sin.

    His back ripples speaks to man’s need to “work”, the physicality of hard labor, toil, a lifetime of it because of the Genesis narrative.

    I wish I could return to the tree and turn away — regret, longing for different decisions, outcomes.

    And the punishment sound like a yearning or longing for joy, sweetness and freedom which cannot be obtained because of wrong choices.

    This is brilliant. And reminds me why I fall in love with poetry over and over again.

    I’m still wrestling a little with the title and it’s implications for the whole of the poem. :)

  5. says

    Elizabeth and L.L., thank you so much for your comments! I think you are right about the title. Life outside the garden, life outside of God, even life outside of each other.

  6. LINDA REID says

    I like your poem, Tania.

    I wrote a poem about Eve too- here it is if you’d like to read it.

    Blame It On Eve

    The first woman
    the first wife
    the first mother
    That’s what man wrote
    about a woman
    the first woman
    to come into an
    all male world.
    Eve was one of the
    first “bad” girls.
    Then came the Madonna Time
    when a woman was either
    all good or all bad
    choose witch
    all the way down
    to now
    there’s still a hangover
    of too strong apple juice
    and water turned into wine.

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