Poetry | Lilli Ferry

father earth
Written by Lilli Ferry, Chicagoland writer & musician.

“from dust you were taken, 
to dust you will return,” 
says the Lord Almighty. so there
you lay, I presume, in a gilded
box, but your flesh still deteriorating
to dust, I presume. 

other girls look to the faces
of their fathers for forgiveness, for some
compassion, for a conversation, 
but I
cannot look upon your face. 
instead I cast my eyes
upon the roadside wildflowers, 
the ever-distant mountains, 
the pines that shiver in December wind. 
your arms no longer offer
a warm embrace, for you are
the sun— 

warmth itself. to dust
you returned and now I breathe
in your particles
so the dust of the universe swells
inside my lungs. 

warmth itself. to dust
you returned and now I breathe
in your particles
so the dust of the universe swells
inside my lungs. someday I, too, will return to this
very same dust, but for now
my seed will take root in this dirt, 
this earth— 
from my father’s land
I will blossom.  

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Last summer I had the incredible opportunity to travel abroad to England and study literature, as well as work on an independent writing project in poetry. As an English literature major and a lifelong lover of books and poetry, I dreamt about spending a summer in England for as long as I can remember. And as a budding adult constantly resisting the phrase “adulting” in an attempt to normalize ordinary adult-life tasks, I was so proud that I got to pay for this trip with my own savings money. It made me feel responsible, even when I spent $80 on a sundress in Bath: it was only £50, and I guess my English-major brain forgot to convert to American dollars. 

But I was learning more than financial responsibility last summer, and it seems that a lot of what I learned I have been continuing to uncover since returning to the States. 

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I planned to do this writing project in poetry last summer, and I thought I was going to be writing all of these poems about the landscape, about seeing the places some of my favorite writers and pastors and poets came from, about connecting with a rich literary history and connecting with the new friends I made on the trip. 

But my creative process, as per usual, took me on a detour. This poem, "father earth,” was not included in my collection because I was not ready to share it with anybody yet. It came out of an overflow of creativity and imagery and words pent up inside my spirit one afternoon in Oxford. 

I wish I could tell you that it was a perfectly English afternoon: a slight drizzle and an old bookstore and not another human in site. But it wasn’t. I was crowded in the basement of a relatively modern and almost American-feeling coffee shop downtown. There were people everywhere, and two of my friends who were hustling to finish several more pages of their respective novels were crammed around a tiny table with me. I was in the messy, ugly, annoying process of editing one of my other poems when I heard the Lord remind me of His words in Genesis: 

“From dust you were taken, and to dust you will return.” 
— Genesis
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As a poet, it is often difficult to remain humble. There is so much pretension surrounding poetry. People are scared to attempt to write poetry because it seems mysterious, so as someone who identifies as a poet, I am often tempted to puff myself up. “Oh, I get poetry. I’m cool and trendy and maybe these poems will get Internet-famous and I’ll be one of the lucky few who can actually make a living from writing poetry.”  

But on this day, I was suffering through the editing process, and I felt this immense weight to make my poems perfect. They needed to be perfect—or at least as good as the poems the other writers in my group were writing. 

These words in Genesis were such a simple reminder that sometimes, our work here on Earth does not need to last forever. My words will probably never be remembered like George Herbert or John Donne’s, but that doesn’t matter, because they came from a moment of personal devotion. These words came from a time of personal stewardship of the gift I have been given by my heavenly Father. 

On that day in that coffee shop in Oxford, England, I was not processing all the beauty around me or even reflecting on the spiritual journey I had been taking as I participated in Anglican liturgy for the summer. I was processing feelings of grief that were several years old, leftovers from when my father died when I was sixteen. 

Though I went through grief counseling and had a loving, supportive community around me when my dad died, high school is a tough time to try to take the time to grieve well. I was busy, after all. Thinking about college. Thinking about boys and dating. Thinking about friends. Thinking about somehow keeping all of my grades at a perfect A. I had a lot going on when my dad died, and I was so overwhelmed that I shut down. I spiraled into a severe depression for 18 months, and then I was graduating and moving to college, and suddenly I was twenty years old, spending my summer in England, and I realized my soul had been trying to fill so many holes for so long.  

I never really got quiet with myself and processed the pain of my dad not being around for some pretty big milestones. I was always comparing my life, my story, to other people—other young women, in particular. I wanted their stories. I wanted my dad to be approving (or not approving) of the guys I was dating. I wanted my dad to see me graduate from college. I wanted my dad to see me get married, to meet any children I have. And my dad won’t get to do that. This poem came from a place of processing: it is okay that my story looks different from other people’s stories, because my dad is still with me. He is in every freckle on my face and every harmony that I sing, because he’s the one who taught me how to harmonize. 

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This poem came from a place of processing, and it was personal devotion, and then I forgot about it. As creatives, I think we all have projects like that, right? The one that helped us get into the right place to create the things that we will share. The one that remains private. 

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I was reading through some of my old poems, searching for inspiration, and as I read this poem over again I realized that this poem is not just about my earthly father. This poem is about my heavenly Father, too. God is the sun; He is warmth itself; all the Earth and all the land is His, and we all sprout forth from this very dirt that He created. We cannot blossom without first being planted in Him. When we breathe in the Lord’s air, the Lord’s universe swells inside our lungs. He fills us up—whether we are feeling empty, or whether we already feel full. He brings us to overflowing, in His great grace. 

I have always wrestled to understand what it means for the Lord to be my Father. That is such a human word, such a physical, tangible word. It is not a divine word, it is not an ethereal word. But somehow, it is. He gives us what we need to grow. He nurtures us. He fills our chests with breath, our mouths with song, our hearts with dreams. Certainly, we will return to dust—but He is redeeming even the dust. The dust that we will become is His, too. We are His, always. 

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