Fungus on Fallen Alder at Lookout Creek

Florid, fluted, flowery petal, flounce
of a girl’s dress, ruffled fan,
striped in what seems to my simple eye
an excess of extravagance,
intricately ribboned like a secret
code, a colorist’s vision of DNA.
At the outermost edge a scallop
of ivory, then a tweedy russet,
then mouse gray, a crescent
of celadon velvet, a streak of sleek seal brown,
a dark arc of copper, then butter,
then celadon again, again butter, again
copper and on into the center, striped thinner
and thinner to the green, green moss-furry heart.
How can this be necessary?
Yet it grows and is making more
of itself, dozens and dozens of tiny starts, stars
no bigger than a baby’s thumbnail,
all of them sucking one young dead tree
on a gravel bank that will be washed away
in the next flooding winter. But isn’t the air here
cool and wet and almost unbearably sweet?


Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Last spring, I had the privilege of being a writer-in-residence as part of the Long-Term Ecological Reflections Program of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. Time and space are overwhelming in this old-growth conifer forest where the trees are 300, 500 or even 700 years old, rising 250 feet into the sky, and where even the experiments are designed to take two hundred years. And then there are the almost infinite number of small life forms, living with, on, and inside these giants.”
—Ellen Bass