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Seeding an Alphabet

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To invent the alef-beit,
decipher the grammar of crows,
read a tangle of bare branches
with vowels of the last leaves
scrawling their jittery speech
on the sky’s pale page.
Choose a beginning.
See what God yields and dirt cedes
when tines disturb fescue, vetch, and sage,
when your hand dips grain from a sack,
scattering it among engraved furrows.
Beyond the hill, a plume of dust
where oxen track the hours.
Does God lead or follow or scout?
To answer, count to one again and again:
a red maple leaf and a yellow maple leaf
that wind rifles and rain shines until they let go,
blazing their scripted nothingness on air.

Emily Warn, “Seeding an Alphabet” from Shadow Architect. Copyright © 2008 by Emily Warn. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Source: Shadow Architect (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)
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Seeding an Alphabet

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  • Emily Warn was born in San Francisco and grew up in California and Detroit. She earned degrees from Kalamazoo College and the University of Washington. Her full-length collections of poetry include The Leaf Path (1982), The Novice Insomniac (1996), and Shadow Architect (2008). She has published two chapbooks: The Book of Esther (1986) and Highway Suite (1987) and is the founding editor of poetryfoundation.org, Warn’s poems and criticism have been published widely in journals and magazines, including Bookforum, Blackbird, Jacket2, Parabola, the Seattle Times, and Poetry. She is a former Wallace Stegner fellow and has held writer-in-residence positions at institutions such as the Bush School in Seattle, Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Centrum Foundation, and Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico.
    A former group programming manager for Microsoft, Warn has also been a web consultant for Amazon, the Methow Conservancy, and Farming and the Environment. She has taught...

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