poem index

Russian Birch

Nathaniel Bellows
Is it agony that has bleached them to such beauty? Their stand 
is at the edge of our property—white spires like fingers, through which
the deer emerge with all the tentative grace of memory. Your father

loved these trees. When you try to imagine his childhood, it is all old 
footage, in a similar scheme: black and white. But he died, and all you know 
is that they reminded him of home.  As they remind you he is gone

to a country as unimaginable as his life before you were born, before
the woman who would be your mother lived as she does now—lost, 
wandering at the edge of her life’s whitened gates. 

After a storm, one birch fell in the field, an ivory buttress collapsed across
the pasture.  Up close there is pink skin beneath the paper, green lichen
ascending in settlements of scales. In the dark yard it beckons you back 

to snow, the static of the past—your father, a boy, speaking in a tongue
you never knew, calling down from the branches. Or the letter you wrote
to a mother you weren’t allowed to miss—black ink scrawled across

the white pulp of the page: I am very lonely without you.

"Russian Birch", from Why Speak? by Nathaniel Bellows. Copyright © 2007 by Nathaniel Bellows. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Nathaniel Bellows

by this poet

poem

live life as a stranger. Disappear
into frequent invention, depending
on the district, wherever you get off
the train. For a night, take the name
of the person who’d say yes to that
offer, that overture, the invitation to
kiss that mouth, sit on that lap. Assume
the name of