Pruning Burning Bushes

From a brief review of Sarah M. Wells' Pruning Burning Bushes published in an email from Image.
In her poetry collection Pruning Burning Bushes Sarah M. Wells delves into the rich ground of detail to turn up the "casual miracle" of what lives beneath. "Settle your shifting gaze," she writes, then prunes through images of childhood, marriage, family, birth, and death, "cutting back two-thirds of growth / to trigger recovery from the trunk up." From the rural to the urban, the aging to the newly born, the honky-tonk to the quilting club, the imagery she's been given is not only tended with "sighing, sweating, fists on hips, pruners / lost in the grass" but also with a compassion and spirit "reckless with praise and the need to be filled." In her recent essay in Poets Quarterly, Wells speaks as a writer whose work is faith-based—she says her joy in poetry "is discovering something I'd never known or felt before, my body nodding, yes, yes, that is it, there it is, the divine indwelt. And then this greater joy: to share that experience with another human being through the written word, poet and reader, a small community of believers who are now gathered in worship around this little altar." Whether as altar builder or gardener, Wells's work is inspired. As poet Sydney Lea writes, "Wells has been granted—and she knows it—the grace to eat life right down to the seed, where the joy of the mystery lies, and the peace that passes understanding."


"He cuts off every branch in me
that bears no fruit."
--John 15:2

The angry gardener sees
overgrown, untended beds
and seethes. He pulls
the waist-high weeds,
heavy in seed, and heaves
them to the compost heap.

And then the shrubs--
how they shudder
in his shadow, hand saw
pushed and pulled until
limbs quiver, surrender.

Pruners snip, his grip
is sweaty, tight, a frenzy
to the suckers, rose hips,
broken stems, spotted leaves.
The clipping never ends;
he is severe--takes away
more than one-third.

And then mulch,
fertilizer, buckets of water.
The landscape sighs,
breathes with the gardener
who stands back,
fists on hips.

Sarah M. Wells
from Pruning Burning Bushes (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011)

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