(A sestina, for the “cultivation” poetry prompt at Books and Culture)
Nothing magic or automatic makes
a lady cultivated, a gentleman distinguished.
We inherit hair color, stature, shades
of complexion—but DNA contains no culture;
It can’t be handed down like old
clothes outgrown. It is the shared
work of generations teaching, the shared
work of generations learning that makes
connection between young and old.
By our likenesses we are distinguished
from another community’s culture—
the rhythms of our music, the shades
and hues of our own art, the shades
of meaning in conversations shared
over meals—but we can’t ram down culture
like a grumpy, tight-lipped nanny makes
a child swallow bites of undistinguished
mush. Culture won’t go down that old
way; “learning” by force gets old
fast. Winsome cultivation is a shade
tree—a gentle, distinguished,
trusted voice. A voice that shared
a story, and in the sharing makes
me want to tell my own. This is the culture
of grace, the pattern of love, the culture
of loving, living examples of the old
made new, a distinct stirring that makes
a shelter for the parched seeking shade.
Cultivation is work, but there’s no shared
space for work and force. Distinguished
from the lord tyranny, distinguished
from forced labor, the love-work of culture
guides us from the unfamiliar to the shared;
then grows into a lineage, becomes age-old.
We dip in fingers and paint our own shades
into the portrait cultivation makes.
But like the distinguished farmer of old,
after sowing culture we draw the shades,
take our share of rest, and see what He makes.
And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”