Origin of Planets
In this version, the valley
lime green after rain
rolls its tides before us.
A coyote bush shivers with seed.
We hold out our palms as if catching snow—
our villages of circular tracts
overcast with stars.
We have been moving together in sequence
for thousands of years, paralyzed
only by the question of time.
But now it is autumn under bishop pines—
the young blown down by wind feed
their lichens to the understory.
We follow the deer-path
past the ferns, to the flooded
upper reaches of the estuary.
The channel snakes through horsetails
and hemlock as the forest deepens, rises
behind us and the blue heron,
frozen in the shallows.
The shadow of her long neck ripples.
Somewhere in the rustling tulle reeds
spider is casting her threads to the light
and we spot a crimson-hooded fly agaric,
her toadstool’s gills white
as teeth as the sun
bleeds into the Pacific.
We will walk the trail
until it turns to sand
and wait at the spit’s edge, listening
to the breakers, the seagulls
as they chatter their twilight preparations.
What we won’t understand
about the sound of the sea is no different
than the origin of planets
or the wind’s crystalline structures
The albatross drags her parachute
over the earth’s gaping mouth.
We turn back only for the instant
the four dimensions fold
into a sandcastle—before its towers
are collapsed by waves.
The face that turns
toward the end of its world
dissolves into space—
despite us, the continuum
Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Elise Foerster. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This poem emerged from one particular version of a day when I had the gift of walking with a friend on the Point Reyes National Seashore. I say ‘version’ because the path this poem follows is inevitably different from the path we walked, and distinct, too, from the many paths in my memory of that day. What all my versions share is that we walked toward the beach, toward twilight, at which point I wondered what it really meant to ‘turn back.’ At which point I watched the waves, the wind, the endless endings and beginnings, the turnings of gulls and seashells, planets peering through dusk. I love that wonderment doesn’t require understanding. How brief we are, and infinite in our versions of being here on earth.”
—Jennifer Elise Foerster