2024 Poetry Ourselves: "We Must Be in the Harvest Again"

Jessie Leitzel, South Carolina's 2024 Poetry Out Loud Champion, is the 2024 Poetry Ourselves written poetry winner for the poem "We Must Be in the Harvest Again"

A companion to Poetry Out Loud, the Poetry Ourselves competition gives students the opportunity to submit original poetry. The 2024 competition was open to Poetry Out Loud state and jurisdictional champions.

"We Must Be in the Harvest Again"

The end of summer
and our jalapeño plant

is wilting, its stem brittle
as the heat peels

away from us,
though we swore,

like every august,
that we would die

from it—I have, too, thought
of my great grandfather, peeling

sweet corn in the heat.
My living room

smells of the soil
he tracked into his home. It’s ruthless

in how it doesn’t fade: walking
on the balls of my feet,

I pretend I know
how everything would unfold

while husking. How the skin
would break, the crop

yellow and stringy,
tinged with dirt. There’s a tale

planted through my family
of people growing

straight from between
the rocks: ankles rooted

in tilled earth, skin
smelling of good loam,

themselves the first wild crops—
there’s a lot about farming

I should know,
but don’t. It’s cruel

how strong the smell is,
some nights. How habitually

it reminds me
of the place

I am not. My father
brings home a sheaf

and I crack into one
by the stem. Bury

my pointer finger
in its twine

like I’m seeding my body
into its roots, like I’m belonging

to this land
instead of searching

for a way
back into it.