The Forest for the Trees

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.

The Index

In the beginning there was darkness,
then a bunch of other stuff—and lots of people.
Some things were said and loosely interpreted,

or maybe things were not communicated clearly.
Regardless—there has always been an index.
That thing about the meek—how we

shall inherit the earth; that was a promise
made in a treaty at the dawn of time
agreed upon in primordial darkness                

and documented in the spiritual record.
The nature of the agreement was thus:
The world will seemingly be pushed past capacity.

A new planet will be “discovered” 31 light-years away.   
Space travel will advance rapidly,
making the journey feasible. The ice sheets will melt.

Things will get ugly. The only way to leave
will be to buy a ticket. Tickets will be priced at exactly
the amount that can be accrued

by abandoning basic humanity.
The index will show how you came by your fortune:            
If you murdered, trafficked or exploited the vulnerable,

stole, embezzled, poisoned, cheated, swindled,
or otherwise subdued nature to come by wealth
great enough to afford passage to the new earth;

if your ancestors did these things and you’ve done nothing
to benefit from their crimes yet do nothing to atone
through returning inherited wealth to the greater good

you shall be granted passage. It was agreed.
The meek shall stay, the powerful shall leave.
And it all shall start again.

The meek shall inherit the earth,
and what shall we do with it,
but set about putting aside our meekness?

Tour of a Salmonberry

A salmonberry is a
luminous spiral,
a golden basket
woven of sunshine,
water, and birdsong.

I’m told that the birds
sing so sweet because
of all the berries they eat,
and that show you
can have a sweet voice too.

In my Native language,
the word for salmonberry
is Alile’. In Sanskrit, Lila means
God plays. Salmonberries
sometimes look that way.

Every year they debut,
spectacular in the landscape,
worthy of their genus name—
Rubus spectabilis, meaning,
red sight worth seeing.

Each drupelet holds a seed
and the shimmering secret
kept by rain—of how to rise,
float above the earth, feel
the sun, and return.

(A Poem Is a) Naming Ceremony

What has grown out of what has gone away?
The clear-cut patch has grown larger on the mountain.
The rivers have grown murky with timber trash,
and there’s enough run-off cow manure to grow corn
out there on the tide flats. I don’t want to think about
what has gone away. I want to meander and play
and forget myself until I can grow a new me
in place of all this grief—learn the language to see
the cotton wood as kwealich ice, the dancing tree;
the killer whales as quell’ lhol mechen, our relatives
under the sea; the whole glorious landscape
filled with meaning to end my grieving.

When I was young, I was invited to learn
Xwilngexw’qen, the people’s language,
but I said no. I didn’t understand. I thought
I wanted to learn how to be rich. I didn’t know
that the only way to posses all the weather
of the world is by naming it—here is bird song,
here is the kiss of a lover, here is the feel
of cold water at the peak of summer.
I have spent my life with words, trying to name
a hint of what I lost by not learning my language.
Estitemsen. Tu totest sen. Estitemsen.*


* I’m doing my best. I’m still learning. I’m doing my best.