rutted field of the heart poems by priscilla wear ellsworth

picture of priscilla wear ellsworth

Photograph by Julia Gaviria


Priscilla Wear Ellsworth’s Rutted Field of the Heart presents courageous, finely wrought poems expressing anguish, love, and hope following the loss of a husband after many years of blessed marriage. They are imbued with faith in the natural world and belief in the importance of family. About the book Margaret Gibson has said, “The poems in Rutted Field of the Heart follow a seasonal and elegiac arc. Consistently faithful to a resonant simplicity, they offer a poignant record of living at the edge of death at the close of a long marriage, and the grieving after. There are unexpected affirmations and insights that refuse easy sentiment… These poems remind that the surprise of grace can be sensed at the quick of each moment, however painful.” Myra Shapiro adds this: “Rooted in the elegance and reality of nature and family, Priscilla Ellsworth's poems become a gift, a primer on ‘how to live / and how to die.’  In an early poem she chides, ‘Husband, wake up!’  She is a wife who wants her husband's presence.  Life: travel with family, work in the garden with him, the joy of peonies – ‘What if we had lived like this all our days?’ Death arrives midway in the book: ‘So this is it.’  That single line, poignant, direct, straight to the heart. The poem ‘Dawn Fire’ which follows with its description of hunters and needless death takes one's breath away.  In ‘New Widow,’ when Ellsworth writes, ‘For now my heart is a garden that cannot be turned,’ she keeps us in the rhythm of the natural world: for all its death it will bring spring.  Here are poems to trust.”
  rutted field of the heart poems by priscilla ellsworth cover image
  Front cover painting by Susan Rand.

Priscilla Wear Ellsworth grew up on a farm outside Philadelphia. After receiving an M.A. in art history from Columbia University, she married, raised two children, and taught poetry workshops in New York City public schools. A grandmother of six, she spends many happy hours with family and a fifteen-year-old dog. She is a long-time member of Amnesty International, working for the release of prisoners of conscience around the world. Rutted Field of the Heart is her third poetry collection. Her poems have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and have appeared in various journals including Cape Rock, Connecticut River Review, Whetstone, and Nimrod. She currently lives in Salisbury, Connecticut.





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ISBN 978-1-943826-03-2

Copyright © 2015 by Anne Magee Dichele

6" x 9" paperback, 68 pages



Copyright ©2016 by Priscilla Wear Ellsworth


“It’s like first love,” he shouts,
racing an armful of soft pink blossoms
into the house.

As if a summer of first kisses was spilling from these petals,
and he, eighteen again, giddy
with the smell of perfume.

He has fertilized the soil,
hooped the stems.
In the mud room he whistles and hums
as he arranges bunch after bunch
into bouquets.

“Come look,” he says,
placing a full vase for me
on the kitchen table:
blush pink moonstones.

This time next year
these hardy plants will
unfurl their ruffled skirts,

dance triumphantly
into our house;
His voice, his whole being

alive and sensual
as the blossoms themselves
reaches out and out.



While they are still in blossom, our son uproots
ten stalks of purple loosestrife,
packs them in plastic bags and burns them.
He doesn’t want these invasive weeds
to take over the pond bank, displace
the cattails and jewelweed.

Loosestrife. The disconsolate name pulls me
to the day our six-year-old daughter was Hope
in a school play. The last to make her way out
of Pandora’s box, she flew around the classroom.
With her golden hair and tutu,
she chased away countless black-clad sorrows.

Fallujah, Mozambique, Bagdad –
strife is on the loose,
discord and chaos sinking
roots into villages, mountains,
deserts, seashores.

And closer to home, disease has invaded
my husband’s body, has spread
from pancreas, to liver, to spleen.
He has weeks, months, if he’s lucky.

Hope, crouching inside the dark
of a box, push open the lid.


Sitting on a shoe shine stand
in San Miguel de Allende,
my husband in a straw hat
gets his old leather shoes shined,
while in a corner of the jardin, near him,
out grandchildren dance
to mariachi music.

My husband, who loves parties,
ties a napkin around his forhead and dances
with abandon at family weddings,
has a few months to live.

The shoe man rubs and polishes.
The four street musicians
in their silver-studded charros
blast out La Bamba.

Arriba! Arriba!

My husband’s eyes fill with laughter and tears
as the children shake and shimmie,
dance wildly, stomping their feet
with joy.



He mumbled he was too tired
to get out of bed.
I couldn’t accept what the cancer was doing;
black-fisted thoughts
pummeled my head.

I pulled a second blanket over him,
dressed and went outside.

A light snow was falling,
covering all the places where we’d walked,
the lawn, the fields behind the barn,
the path around the pond.

Without effort the snow was falling,
slipping a fresh white coat
on the scrawny box bush,
the leafless trees.

As I stood there,
the wall around our garden softened;
flakes brushed against my eyelids,
a few fell onto my tongue.

Slowly, I could feel the quiet of snow
melting into my body.

There is a Zen saying:
No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.

My husband was safe in his bed
when I went back to him.


I have spent the night with his body.
I have blessed it with kisses, and given thanks.

Outside a white van pulls up,
a man opens the back doors,
pulls out a gurney.

So this is it.

I run my fingers over his cold cheeks,
his forehead, his nose, his ears.

I praise his body with my tears.

The coroner tells me it is best
if I step out of the room.

My hands and lips, warm with life,
touch him for the last time.

Good-bye dear man I have loved,
who showed me how to live,
and how to die.

Good-bye to your fine tight curls,
your brow wrinkled with thought.

Good-bye to your cornflower blue eyes,
your big and patient heart,
your smile, your long aristocratic feet.


Questions are trowels
that unearth nothing.

Words. . .
put them away.

I am not ready, not ready.

Grief needs a long winter
in which to rest.

For now my heart is a garden
that cannot be turned.


Let me in, let me in,
if only for a few hours.

I have news from your brothers and sisters,
a bearskin

to warm you, a knapsack filled with raisins
and honey, pine twigs for the fire.

If you wish I could put up a pot
of your favorite Hu-kwa tea.

Can you hear me rapping,
shaking the window?

When you held my face in your hands for the last time,
your tears and kisses were like water to me.

Darling, don’t send me away tonight.
The road through the deep snow was long.


One arrived one evening
when I was listening
to the songs from the Auvergne,
a recording we often played,
the other unexpectedly when I picked up
a red pepper in the market.

His death had turned me
to fertile ground.
Still, I thought, they’re temporary visitors –
having hitched rides
on notes of music, hairs of light,
they won’t stay long.

I never believed
those twin seeds would settle
in the rutted field of my heart,
with time split
their husks, unpack
roots and branches.



To the bobolinks nesting in the hayfield,
to the monarchs feeding on milkweed,

to the timothy and clover,
the sedge grass and pond water,

I give these ashes.

To the bittern hiding in the cattails,
the beaver asleep in his lodge,

to the light, cloud, hawk,
moving through air,

I give these ashes.

To our sons, daughters, grandchildren
who will inherit this farm,

to those who have died
and those yet to be born,

I open my hand, release these ashes.


I watched as the coroner wheeled your body away.
With my own hands I scattered your ashes.

And yet this morning in the kitchen,
peeling the skin off a peach,
I saw you through a window.

You were in the garden,
tamping in plugs of rosemary and thyme.

I called your name, Whitney, and you turned,
started to walk towards . . .

Just then a neighbor’s dog barked,
you disappeared.

I don’t know who dressed you
in your baggy jeans,
led you into the garden.

I do know you exist.
I saw you through a window.