(while wandering in the forest at Indian Point, Ellsworth, Maine)
Bats watched them fall, cupped like tiny palms,
toward earthen forests.
They land, eager ears up,
on twigs and felled branches.
They nestle between lichen,
figure out hyphae,
the deep composting web.
Once homed, aliens echolocate via sonar chirps,
the Black-Throated Green Warbler.
Thin sound beams traverse the woods, establish generations,
the milky way’s travelers in their new division.
The trill of me, me, me, a tiny army of green shells,
parsing old and new ocean kinships.
And then they wait.
Wood fibers decay,
car tires feed carbon black into morning breezes,
a hint of rock dust,
rush hour exhaust fumes.
They stir the pot, assemble new fuel,
toward the day that conflagration will send them,
spores and all,
toward the orbit,
closer, so much closer
into the dark.
Copyright © 2023 by Petra Kuppers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
I ask about where water sings.
Here is surplus of sun, ocean
of excess, remaindered song.
Whose hands wash this sky?
Who drains this sun against worry?
Whose mighty ache makes history?
This is where water drains,
where gardens grow against
worry, against the crisis of capital,
& capital knows nothing but the
veil hiding hand from profit. Here
is leftover rice. & the wild imaginary
of hunger. Here is a canal in
the crook of the earth. & here is
where water sings. & this, this
is water singing us elsewhere.
Copyright © 2023 by Jason Magabo Perez. This poem first appeared in the virtual exhibition “Profits Enslave the World: Philip Vera Cruz, the Manong Generation, and the Migrant Laborer Experience” by Welga Archive/Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies, Fall 2020. Used with permission of the author.
Every wood I’ve stepped into
has a watchful crone, a witch whose skin
resembles the bark of an ancient oak.
She spins her wool by moonlight,
she threads her fingers through the moss,
and knows exactly which mushrooms to pick.
I don’t need my hearing to feel the changes
in the wind when she slips out of the gaps
between the rocks and the trees, her voice
I feel in the roots I step on, in the stones
I try to avoid with my bare feet that always
manage to bruise me, test the calluses I’ve grown
with each stride I’ve taken through these trees.
I’ve sung to her beneath the arms of the beeches
reaching towards the birches, though she never
listens to me. I imagine she laughs at the tune
I cannot keep, before moving on, gathering weeds
by the stars, mixing potions to use on people
like me, who would walk into her arms gladly,
wishing she were an old aunt I could visit to learn
everything about this world she keeps to herself.
Copyright © 2023 by Kris Ringman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Like a strong tree that in the virgin earth
Sends far its roots through rock and loam and clay,
And proudly thrives in rain or time of dearth,
When the dry waves scare rainy sprites away;
Like a strong tree that reaches down, deep, deep,
For sunken water, fluid underground,
Where the great-ringed unsightly blind worms creep,
And queer things of the nether world abound:
So would I live in rich imperial growth,
Touching the surface and the depth of things,
Instinctively responsive unto both,
Tasting the sweets of being and the stings,
Sensing the subtle spell of changing forms,
Like a strong tree against a thousand storms.
This poem is in the public domain.
I have seen a tree split in two
from the weight of its opposing branches.
It can survive, though its heart is exposed.
I have seen a country do this too.
I have heard an elder say
that we must be like the willow—
bend not to break.
I have made peace this way.
My neighbors clear-cut their trees,
leaving mine defenseless. The arborist
says they’ll fall in the first strong wind.
Together we stand. I see this now.
I have seen a tree grown around
a bicycle, a street sign, and a chainsaw,
absorbing them like ingredients
in a great melting pot.
When we speak, whether or not
we agree, the trees will turn
the breath of our words
from carbon dioxide into air—
give us new breath
for new words,
new chances to listen,
new chances to be heard.
Copyright © 2021 by Rena Marie Priest. Originally published in Spark: The Magazine of Humanities Washington, 2021, issue 2. Used with the permission of the poet.
who will be the messenger of this land
count its veins
speak through the veins
translate the language of water
navigate the heels of lineage
who will carry this land in parcels
paper, linen, burlap
who will weep when it bleeds
forgets to birth itself
who will be the messenger of this land
wrapping its stories carefully
in patois of creole, irish,
gullah, twe, tuscarora
stripping its trees for tea
who will help this land to
remember its birthdays, baptisms
weddings, funerals, its rituals
who will be the messengers
of this land
harvesting its truths
bearing unleavened bread
burying mutilated crops beneath
who will remember
to unbury the unborn seeds
bent, layered in its
we are their messengers
with singing hoes
and dancing plows
with fingers that snap
beans, arms that
raise corn, feet that
cover the dew falling from
okra, beans, tomatoes
we are these messengers
whose ears alone choose
whose eyes alone name
basil, nutmeg, fennel, ginger,
whose tongues alone carry
hemlock, blood root, valerian,
damiana, st. john’s wort
these roots that contain
its pleasures its languages its secrets
we are the messengers
arriving as mutations of ourselves
we are these messengers
singing a tree into dance
From Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Jaki Shelton Green. Used with the permission of the author.
Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.
Two full cypress trees in the clearing
intertwine in a way that almost makes
them seem like one. Until at a certain angle
from the blue blow-up pool I bought
this summer to save my life, I see it
is not one tree, but two, and they are
kissing. They are kissing so tenderly
it feels rude to watch, one hand
on the other’s shoulder, another
in the other’s branches, like hair.
When did kissing become so
dangerous? Or was it always so?
That illicit kiss in the bathroom
of the Four-Faced Liar, a bar
named after a clock, what was her
name? Or the first one with you
on the corner of Metropolitan
Avenue, before you came home
with me forever. I watch those green
trees now and it feels libidinous.
I want them to go on kissing, without
fear. I want to watch them and not
feel so abandoned by hands. Come
home. Everything is begging you.
From The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2022). Copyright © 2022 by Ada Limón. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Copyright © 2017 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I sniff the blooming tiger lily,
two tongues sprung open
from one mouth.
I poison the river unintentionally.
I walk on the designated paths.
I splice the mountain, its body and mouth gaping.
I collect rainwater in a wheelbarrow.
I line the whale’s belly with gifts until
they rupture its stomach.
I water the strawberries.
Again I fill my gas tank with dead things,
generations spun together until shiny.
I feed the ducks fresh lettuce.
I maneuver the dead squirrel
on the road, mark the moment
when creature becomes meat.
I accept that my love is a
poisonous flower, routinely fatal.
I calculate the force of
loving in each glittering death.
All day on this land, in the
deep forest, the electric greens and
still-wet mud writhe with life.
The pond gurgles and whispers.
Everyone here knows to shudder
when they see me coming.
The mangos arrive unbruised
at the grocery store.
The wolves should start running.
Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Atalie. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
after Linda Hogan
Nothing wants to suffer. Not the wind
as it scrapes itself against the cliff. Not the cliff
being eaten, slowly, by the sea. The earth does not want
to suffer the rough tread of those who do not notice it.
The trees do not want to suffer the axe, nor see
their sisters felled by root rot, mildew, rust.
The coyote in its den. The puma stalking its prey.
These, too, want ease and a tender animal in the mouth
to take their hunger. An offering, one hopes,
made quickly, and without much suffering.
The chair mourns an angry sitter. The lamp, a scalded moth.
A table, the weight of years of argument.
We know this, though we forget.
Not the shark nor the tiger, fanged as they are.
Nor the worm, content in its windowless world
of soil and stone. Not the stone, resting in its riverbed.
The riverbed, gazing up at the stars.
Least of all, the stars, ensconced in their canopy,
looking down at all of us— their offspring—
scattered so far beyond reach.
Copyright © 2021 by Danusha Laméris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
Call me lagahoo, soucouyant. Call me other.
I came ravenous: mongoose consuming
fresh landscapes until I made myself
new species of the Indies.
Christen me how you wish, my muzzle
matted with blood of fresh invertebrates.
I disappear your problems
without thought to consequence.
Call me Obeah. Watch me cut
through cane, chase
sugar-hungry rats. Giggling
at mating season, I grow fat
multiples, litters thick as tropic air.
Don’t you find me beautiful? My soft animal
features, this body streamlined ruthless,
claws that won’t retract. You desire them.
You never ask me what I want. I take
your chickens, your iguana,
you watch me and wonder
when you will be outnumbered.
My offspring stalking your village,
ecosystems uprooted, roosts
I am not native. Not domesticated.
I am naturalized, resistant
to snake venoms, your colony’s toxins—
everything you brought me to,
this land. I chew and spit back
reptile and bird bone
prophecy strewn across stones.
Copyright © 2020 by Daria-Ann Martineau. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Lark of my house,
this little lark says hi
to the rain—she calls
river as she slaps
the air with both wings—
she doesn’t know pine
from ash or cedar
from linden—she greets
drizzle & downpour
know iceberg from melt—
can’t say sea level
doesn’t know wildfire—
tax or emission—
does not legislate
a fear she can’t yet
feel—only knows cats
& birds & small dogs
& the sway of some
tall trees make her squeal
with delight—it shakes
her tiny body—
this thrill of the live
the taste of wild blue-
berries on her tongue—
the ache of thorn-prick
from blackberry bush—
oh dear girl—look here—
there’s so much to save—
horizon’s pink hue—
we gather lifetimes
on one small petal—
the river’s our friend—
the world: an atom—
name for: hope—rain—change
begins when you hail
the sky sun & wind
the verdure inside
your heart’s four chambers
even garter snakes
and unnamed insects
in the underbrush
as you would a love
that rivers: hi—hi
Copyright © 2020 by Dante Di Stefano. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.
The Earthlings arrived unannounced, entered
without knocking, removed their shoes
and began clipping their toenails.
They let the clippings fall wherever.
They sighed loudly as if inconvenienced.
We were patient. We knew our guests
were in an unfamiliar environment; they needed
time to adjust. For dinner, we prepared
turkey meatloaf with a side of cauliflower.
This is too dry, they said.
This is not like what our mothers made.
We wanted to offer a tour of our world,
demonstrate how we freed ourselves
from the prisons of linear time.
But the Earthlings were already spelunking
our closets, prying tools
from their containers and holding them
to the light. What’s this? they demanded.
What’s this? What’s this? And what’s this?
That’s a Quantum Annihilator; put that down.
That’s a Particle Grinder; please put that down.
We could show you how to heal the sick, we said.
We could help you feed every nation, commune
with the all-seeing sentient energy that palpitates
through all known forms of matter.
Nah! they said. Teach us to vaporize a mountain!
Teach us to turn the moon into revenue!
Then the Earthlings
left a faucet running and flooded our basement.
Copyright © 2023 by Matthew Olzmann. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
An Indian Grandmother’s Parable
Many times in my life I have heard the white sages,
Who are learned in the knowledge and lore of past ages,
Speak of my people with pity, say, “Gone is their hour
Of dominion. By the strong wind of progress their power,
Like a rose past its brief time of blooming, lies shattered;
Like the leaves of the oak tree its people are scattered.”
This is the eighty-first autumn since I can remember.
Again fall the leaves, born in April and dead by December;
Riding the whimsied breeze, zigzagging and whirling,
Coming to earth at last and slowly upcurling,
Withered and sapless and brown, into discarded fragments,
Of what once was life; dry, chattering parchments
That crackle and rustle like old women’s laughter
When the merciless wind with swift feet coming after
Will drive them before him with unsparing lashes
’Til they are crumbled and crushed into forgotten ashes;
Crumbled and crushed, and piled deep in the gulches and hollows,
Soft bed for the yet softer snow that in winter fast follows
But when in the spring the light falling
Patter of raindrops persuading, insistently calling,
Wakens to life again forces that long months have slumbered,
There will come whispering movement, and green things unnumbered
Will pierce through the mould with their yellow-green, sun-searching fingers,
Fingers—or spear-tips, grown tall, will bud at another year’s breaking,
One day when the brooks, manumitted by sunshine, are making
Music like gold in the spring of some far generation.
And up from the long-withered leaves, from the musty stagnation,
Life will climb high to the furthermost leaflets.
The bursting of catkins asunder with greed for the sunlight; the thirsting
Of twisted brown roots for earth-water; the gradual unfolding
Of brilliance and strength in the future, earth’s bosom is holding
Today in those scurrying leaves, soon to be crumpled and broken.
Let those who have ears hear my word and be still. I have spoken.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 11, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.