Matt Daly

Matt Daly is the author of the poetry collection, Between Here and Home (Unsolicited Press), and the chapbook, Red State (Seven Kitchens Press). He is the recipient of a Neltje Blanchan Award for writing inspired by the natural world and a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the Wyoming Arts Council. His second full-length collection of poems is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2024. Matt is the co-founder of Write to Thrive (, an enterprise that brings reflective and creative writing practices to individuals and professional groups to cultivate creativity and wellbeing.

Plant Apparitions

Observe, my ancestor, white     blossoms as columbine.
Report the columbine     above the ripening
whortleberries. Presume     red tendrils back 
to the red of fruiting     bodies. Examine the red 
stain of the plucked     fruit. Quarrel fingertips, 
your convictions. Suspect     the family of fruiting 
bodies. Leave the beetle     to its mark. Utter 
the contractions of these     unfamiliar textures.
Prove flavor by baring     teeth. Scratch the weak
dew from the knuckle     edge. Give testimony 
which is also oath-moan.     Dye cell by cell 
to the fleeting flavor.     Confess to finish 
or further the inquiry.     Witness the uselessness 
of cuspids in the acquisition     of language or 
of flavor. Call upon     the league of leaves, 
their hidden reddening.     Entertain the familiar 
beetle fingering a fingernail.     Divine the passage 
of the black beetle     into nearby blackness, 
unwarranted red,     token red, signal red,
faltering, forsaking,     confessing, gesturing,
pranking, malignant red,     circumstantial red,
what has been called     the witches’ mark, 
the witches’ words,     the witches’ deeds, 
the witches’ ecstasies.     Witnesses the witches’ 
confessions, as you have     long done, my ancestor,
as if white flowers     aching always lightward.

Maybe in that late day     a flame or shadow 
darted into me. The tree     coaled beneath itself
with spent needles. Late     August exhaled. I was 
a breathing boy still     looking forward to light 
as much as fading. I was     beginning a year, 
and I was familiar     with sorceries. To this
day, I see things I can’t     explain and don’t
bother trying. I still     sit in the dirt with my
hands. The world goes on     whispering just out 
of earshot and the crick     in my neck from listening. 
I watch the needles pile     up and feel them brush 
shoulders of the moraine.     Dirt will hold me
on the last day and dirt     will also hold me after.

I had not been seen     by stems back then, 
but I had tasted them,     and I had cut them 
down. Hungry for sweeter     veins of the woods, 
I plucked and sipped     grasses, popped clover-
heads, buggy and full,     into my boymouth 
for the flood of crushed     cells. Among ghost 
shadows of summer pines     I extracted the flutes 
of columbine one at a time     to nip the slim tip 
and let what sweet they kept     for hawkmoths, 
which look like hummingbirds     among the mottled 
shadows of summer pines,     roll sweetly down 
my tongue’s spine. Time     passed, and more of me 
grew barked and galled.     I grew into my fragile 
hungers, and I knew     how to hold their dusted 
pulse. The white flowers     looked less and less 
like secret treats and more     like little wings 
of a stillness I reached for     without talons or clutch.

I didn’t know poison ivy     grew along the red 
rock canyon stream     until I stood knee-deep 
in its red stems, or that     such a thing as bighorn 
sheep lived anywhere     except carved into some 
canyon wall until the rams     and ewes stood all 
around me. When my legs     began to burn and blister
I waded crotch-deep     into the canyon stream 
to let the water calm me.     I didn’t know that 
standing in any wild place     I’d never before been 
could feel like anything     but lust. I still don’t 
know any other feeling.     Those parts of my animal 
body that can only be called     flanks quiver and itch, 
and whatever live skin     brushes my live skin 
welts me as I slip     through folds of leaves
toward the cold tug     of clear water. I fished 
for trout in the deep     pools. Trout raised 
in a hatchery cinder-     blocked around the spring 
that fed the tanks full     of fry and couldn’t help
itself but pour toward      the ocean-bound. 
The later river, I have     read, no longer rushes 
with any urgency     toward the hips of the sea.

A fragment of some     forgotten stone lodged 
in my right-hand, pointer-     finger, fist knuckle 
after I struck the pre-     shattered rock a splitting 
blow from a hammer     no one in our cabin house 
minded that I used     for my rockhounding. 
I don’t remember goggles      or glasses, so what 
became part of me could     have been worse. That 
was a boyhood time when     my boyself cottonwooded.
Now, in this later, too-     warm summer, a leaf 
prickle from a Canada     thistle lances my opposing 
thumb and leaves its initial     pierce inside, I believe, 
the meat of me. It throbs     when I worry the mark 
it made, but I do not call     my doctor, who was 
a neighbor in the rock-     smacking days, to have 
him cut it away. I grow     neither leaf-like nor 
calcified in what has come     to resemble a tumble 
of seasons. I fill up, digit     by digit, with shards, 
the piles of sharp ends     of the left-unclobbered 
wild, and I try not to let go     of their not letting me go.

Fall hawthorn branches     laden with waxwings
and hard fruit of skin-     gripped seeds. Sunup
thorns sting the frost-     laden arc. Every flutter 
of my wicked cells     in mourning. One at a time 
the flocks go a little     farther toward away
to that dull place     beyond place where nothing
but what you, my ancestor,      say is blessed, ripens 
around a seed loosed     leathery and groundward.

We often gorged     among the hackled branches 
near tumult streams.     Our world was plain 
as granite scree.     What was familiar was sad 
people and the slow     erosion of sad people.
I would come to know     sandstone, tamarisk 
throat-handing desert     streams, and a woman 
invaded by weeds; and you,     my ancestor, would 
familiarize yourself     with techniques to carry
a car-wrecked girl away     from Montana before
the highway patrol arrived.     But in our teens, we knew
only that altitude was red     and seedy and tasted
like shards where marmots     perched in our Augusts. 
Years later, we tried     to fall in love or to act
at last on the years     of falling, but for a couple
of lean-bodied summers     you and I did not need 
the simple sadness of two     bodies squeezed into one
clutch. We knew which     red fruit we could pull
from brambles and swallow,     and which harvests 
among summer’s profusions     would poison or prick us.

I have twinged, cactus     spines hooked in my skin,
severally: looking away     from a windowsill 
pot, pulling a bulb     from the white dog’s leg 
before he could chew it,     brushing against what 
the dog missed, so on.     Never have I known 
thirst like the lost throat     of a vast place that I did 
not think was meant     for my voice or safe, 
even when not-for-     certain safe. This calloused 
luck of my ancestry,     its inevitable cruelty.

Before I knew henbane     was an invasive plant 
where I live, I thought     the speckled flowers 
were beautiful. After?     Still. Before I knew 
how toxic henbane     could be in all its parts 
to the heart, I let stalks     flourish in my yard, 
admired the blossoms     adorning the space
above the array of leaves.     Once I knew henbane
was invasive, I released     roots from the dirt
with a firm tug. I may     have touched some
plants with bare hands.     I may have feared
that my ancestor brushed     his toddler fingers
over the mottled petals.     Once I knew that
henbane was long used     either as medicine
or hallucinogen, I thought     about times the world
seemed strange to me,     like how stars revealed
their varying distances     from my pinpoint vision,
even those long since     coaled to emptiness,
and I was unaffected.     I like pilsner in the summer,
but sometimes one     slurs me. Sometimes, I think
my thoughts are toxic,     but that has yet to stop me
from thinking or feeling     gratitude for my ancestor, 
alive in this unfamiliar world,     a feeling like a branch-
tossing gust as it gathers     leaves before a cold front.
And I can’t help but reach     out to what grows.

Pasture willows grew     into hovels we entered 
and sat surrounded     by stick walls. We knew, 
my ancestor, others     who needed shelter: the boy 
whose dad chased us     off if we came near 
his son while his son     trembled, the boy 
whose dad we never saw     but about whom 
our parents whispered,     the boys at the end 
of the lane whose grandmother     stabbed a shotgun 
at them from her porch     when they strayed 
into her drunken yard.     We were almost 
fatherless and often     happy and without reason 
to fear what our parents     could do beyond 
their falling silent     and into separate rooms.
We grew woody     and leaved, muddy 
and trailing dried algae     strands, ripe, my ancestor, 
with the must     of willow bark. We emerged
festooned with the half-     wildness of the pasture, 
and sheltered by the gray     hands of branches.

I irrigated the steer field     the summer before 
middle school. If you     were not picked up 
by dusk, then you biked     with me and hauled 
the thin timbers and orange     tarps with me, lifted 
river stones to weight     the tarps to keep them
from billowing away     like water, and the work 
went faster. So, we’d linger.     Once, a town kid 
slithered under the low     strand of barbed wire 
instead of scaling it,     ladder-like near the staple
in a grounded post,     and you laughed, my ancestor, 
instead of showing him      our way. He rose, forearms 
sliced from the sedges,     apart from the rest of us 
and giggling. That fall     in town, we would feel 
like difference. Some nights     the dusk surrounded 
us. In the field, the steers     followed in groups,
emboldened each other     to snort and false charge 
until we spun and flung     our sunburned arms 
upward and woofed. They     would always spook, 
the steers, and the ones     that had been bravest 
would lead their scared leaps     backward. We were 
already well aware     of following and leading.
If the steers butted heads     in flight from us, 
we chucked each other     fist to shoulder. The ride 
home was always straight     into a darkening.

My heartbeat begins     to feel like not-a-heart 
when I have gone     a time without the river
pulsing strong around     my body. In such 
seasons, the little     houndstooth fist I pull 
from a sock or sleeve     and pinch until 
it holds my thumb     or pointer finger is like 
the river’s reprieve     as its own heart-shaped 
glacier diminishes, seems     to recharge among
the accumulation of storms     only to diminish
in another dull throb     of summer days.
What a lost pair     of words: my body.
As if anything is split     or otherwise held.
As if the nature     of holding is anything
other than holding     and then again holding.  

Allergies for years     would make you think,
my ancestor, that I should     avoid goldenrod 
in bloom, but bees     and summer heat, the muddy 
mistbreath of pasture     and the weedy edges 
of rural roads before     the sere clung to my body 
(such a sad bumble     of tongues to call this 
“mine”), the way hooked     ends of grasshopper 
legs drew carapace     to boy skin. I leaned 
and lean in. The sun once     blistered my shoulders, 
left me wheezy and     flattened on the couch 
while you, ancestor, went     off to some shaded place 
I can’t remember.     Sunstroked, I slept, and if 
I were to say that     in my sleep I found myself 
in a field of goldenrod,     then already now my eyes 
burn at the thought     of a clear-lunged summer 
without horses or idle     gravel-kicking where roadcut
goldenrod hummed     and I drummed inside 
myself like pollen thunders     in clumps on the last 
legs of bees. Bees I rarely     see now outside 
mismatched hive boxes     hemmed by crops 
when I am outside     with a task or two, a purpose 
that, unlike fever dreams     of a boy never learning 
how to be a man or even     manchild, is of no use 
to this weedy world     other than exhalation.
The way I know my self-     deception is the lie 
divided into my body     and all the other wildlife.

The other day, I talked     to a tree, a spruce 
robed in black for the short     month with heavy 
snow. The tree grew     in my neighbor’s yard,
and had been doing so     for long enough to have 
been brushed by the same     winds that once brushed 
the spruces in my yard,     the trees my friend 
cut down. I was glad     that you, my ancestor, 
were in your moldering     place away on a far hill, 
because I spoke aloud     to the tree, and I knew 
what you would think     of that. Nothing sinister, 
just a little chit-chat     about the tricks the tree
was eager to perfect.     You see, the spruce was
teaching other trees     even the disheveled
birch and the graceful,     albeit shabby, golden 
willow, a little sleight-     of-hand magic. The spruce 
held snow and then     gone, just like that, gone.
The snow was gone     just like that. The branches
that had held the snow     only a moment before
wavered as if brushed     by a summer wind. I watched
closely. I listened     for the snow to murmur
as it fell or when it landed.     I was impressed 
with how silently the snow     slipped past the many 
hands of the spruce. Who     wouldn’t feel compelled
to admire a magician     for such a trick, and so
I spoke. The dogs listened     to me congratulating
the spruce tree instead     of their neighbor’s barks.
The other trees clapped,     letting all of the snow    
they had held onto     fall back to the same
old earth, you  my ancestor,     still molder under far 
off in your stone cloak     and hat. I have not said 
one word of this account     of tree magic aloud 
to you, just tick, tick,     tick. But now let’s speak 
into each other’s ears     in whispers or what is 
left. You don’t need to be     afraid of what I want 
to tell you. Maybe those     spells you spoke fear into 
carried you off into your     wicked brand of thought, 
but the earth is where     I never want my bones 
to leave, the dirt where     even your bones 
are still tucked up     some other place’s sleeve.

Nearly thirty species     of willows inhabit
the drainage of a river     I like to fish, 
and some of these     species hold me.
Moose and cattle     wend mazes through 
the overlap of stalks,     and I follow them. 
Once in a while, I spook     this or that calf 
or a crashing. Some paths     end and I try 
to make my own way     twisting or ducking 
until I am stuck fast     and laugh. I’m slapped 
or my waders pierced     by a sprung branch 
of a willow I can’t pick     out from a species list 
or don’t bother. The species     grow side-by-side 
in varied greens. I’d like     to make a connection.
Their barks turn subtle     winter colors once 
their yellow leaves     are lost to them, (or should 
I say , let go, my ancestor?).     From far off, their colors 
ease my way through another     icy, troutless season. 
I find it difficult to reverse     course, to backtrack 
instead of china-shopping     forward into thickets. 
I’m not so different from men     like you, my ancestor, 
whom I see and have seen     believe freedom is sticking
to whatever I want or say     or do all on my own.

Trailside, wild strawberries     taste, you said, like clouds
as we fondled our way     under leaves to pluck
them. You, in keeping, ate     as many as were ripe
for your fingers, and I,     in keeping, ate only 
a few, thinking that less     would make the flavor 
linger, first on my tongue     and after the memory.
You fell in love with a dying     man years before you 
met me. I was married     for as many seasons 
as I was not, and then     I was not. you told me 
you would always love     him, and I stumbled 
to make tendril room.     I let go of a life, my ancestor, 
and sometimes crushed     its fruit. What I did
not say on the dappled     slopes on the way 
to a place that would be     just ours but was not 
yet, is that you knew     more about the woods
and what to do in them     than I knew, and that
the story of one life     made out of two 
is easier to tell when each     page before the end
can be touched, the last     words are already inked.
Clouds built up and fell     apart, like the fruit 
in our mouths, sweet     and like everything. 

My thumbnail moonshell     knifes treeskin 
and douses my knuckle     with sap like turpentine. 
This pungent blood     of these elegant trees
carries groundfire embers     into the canopy, lets
the summer’s whisper     smolder-yelp its catastrophe.
I can’t stop piercing     bark, rubbing the current 
of nourishing into me.     The forest is phoenix
and I have been one     among the grounded 
to watch or flee.     I’ll never testify 
for the prosecution, even     if my judgment 
won’t wash off of me.     Sap sticks, yes, and I want, 
my ancestor, the sharpness     of the fir’s desire 
to cling, my ancestor,    like soot in dirt, to me.

I have awakened     with such heat for the wild 
world growling in me     that I have sprung 
from shelter to enter     the first dense bramble 
I could. I have felt     myself muddy to swell
and spill into the green     world erect and waving
to receive me. Even     as I gray, I feel the rut
in me among bark folds     and downdrafts, the throb 
in buds and ticklish     catkins. I have made
of my pulse a vessel     for moan. I have pricked
my ears to what wild     is left moaning back.
I have felt the duff dig     into my shoulder blades
and how each little     death is also never dying.

When I part from the trail,     flowers and stalks 
cover the bare skin     of my walking in a film. 
The residue snares     dust and seeds.
Sometimes ants and ticks     stick to the scum 
which covers me. I stink     of geranium musk 
when I come back     to the bloomless lot. 
I reek of the dust     and like their petals
my skin too blushes      under the thirsty 
sun. The trail runs     beside the bottom 
of the fault, runs     alongside the stream 
carving the edge     of the lot, lies 
alongside a larger     stream. I mean 
to say I am not     ignorant to the entangle-
ments I seek, my ancestor,     on every side of where 
I should be, where     you want me to write 
my letters with fingers     rather than feet.

Enchantment fell away     under an evening
fir. I remember the red     August and the soft 
needles. Grasses spread     abroad and golden
with seedheads. Stalks     and stems and the sweat 
of geraniums sticking     the air together. I knew 
that place and its shadow     where I would see 
into my days, and I gave     no fear to the horizon
beyond the dusk of my birth.     I was neither prey
nor did I genuflect. I felt     my skin-warmth mingle
with the flesh of the pebbled     earth. None of this
was an awakening     nor an arousal. I simply held 
onto a body of loam     which was my own,
my voluntary exile     in the squalid desert
that is the sole place     my abominable self,
which is all there is of me,     which has escaped 
the links of your voice,     my ancestor, your bombast, 
and our twining code.     I struggle to seek bedrest
under the gift of duff     not your cruel vellum.

Following a spring creek     toward the muddy river, 
I passed through a patch     of poison ivy before you
pointed it out to me.     The day went on warming. 
Tamarisks pelted the banks.     Bighorns remained,
like the silent vipers,     translucent. I stood 
in the water some     and sometimes I hiked 
against the current spooking     trout from one red 
sandstone bowl to another.     I caught a few fish
before the rest darted     away from my skin 
and the irritant fading     from me. My body
burned a little and then     stopped burning. I itched 
a bit, but the underground     water soothed me 
even after it bubbled up     inside a corrugated 
hatchery before tumbling     into the open, even if 
I soothed not one wild     witness of my passage.

My ancestor, you docked the red     boat while I brought 
out our stringered catch.     Your request for me
to clean the fish for our     dinner felt not quite 
question or command.     You shut the cabin door 
to me, and the evening     went on. I lined each
dry-eyed fish just so      in the stubbled grass 
and clover weeds. I checked     the cabin window 
before plucking dandelions     to place just so 
between one once-silver      fish and the next. I had
not gutted fish in years,     but, like all small brutalities, 
the simplicity came back     to me as if staining 
my knifeblade. I bade each     fish farewell as if they 
were not, the lot of them,     already gone. Quite 
quiet and ceremonial,     I pulled inside from outside 
to the newspaper     and dandelion blooms. You 
rinsed each piscine streak     of meat in the spigot sink, 
patted dry the skin, lay     each in the pan with sliced 
onion. We ate into the silent     summer night and, 
after, nothing dared     to dart through my dreams.

We prized the cones     fallen from subalpine 
firs as ammunition     which was the same 
as currency for our     childhood wars. The strobiles 
were hard and hurt     in the way we wanted,
my ancestor, to be hurt,     stung in the way we wanted 
our bodies and each     other’s bodies to sting. 
When you sprinted     for the boards laddered 
up to the platform piled     with projectiles to augment 
your pocketfuls, the game     turned, and I turned
against you, the runner,     my ancestor, aiming whatever 
cones I could grab and chuck     at you. On occasion, 
a rock may have been thrown.     If you made it
to the platform perch,     my ancestor, hitting me 
was easy, and so you     lessoned me something 
about how power works,     but eventually you had 
to come down and be     welted. I did not yet 
know that subalpine firs     bleed sap like turpentine,
and when wildfires spark     that liquid fire introduces
the canopy to flame.     The world is still like this:
hard with sheltered seeds     and ready to burn. 
We are as we were: playing     at war as if dodging 
consequence with our back     pocket matchbooks 
from the Stagecoach Bar     already full of those struck.

There is nothing much     to the hawthorn berry: 
leathery skin stretched     over a pit. That’s about it. 
And thorns at least an inch     long along each stem 
and strong enough to pierce     through the sole 
of a boot, my ancestor. Berries     a deeper shade of bark 
shaded by almost autumn     leaves. And yet, black bears 
lean their limbs into thinning     hawthorn branches 
to gorge. Bear scat pebbled     with pits and scraps 
of skin. And the time I stood     between a bear stripping 
a hawthorn bare and a few     people peering nearer 
to him. And then that other     time outside a plank-
floored place when the whole     downtown profusion 
of spike-branched limbs     transformed into flocks 
of cedar waxwings, so many     their waxy bands 
of yellow and red thorned     the berried twigs. I live 
in a town where wild things     invite themselves in
so often they often go      unnoticed for being so
unrare. I live in a place     where I have gorged myself
on bear meat sausage     and where I have heard
firsthand that men look     almost like bears once 
bears have lost the thin     trappings of their bearlike
skin. I am profuse with how     I am thin-skinned 
and how I think of my bones     as thin. And, my ancestor, 
how thornlike our colors     and claws have always been.

Yes, I have boiled nettles     in a camp pot to eat 
and called them sour     and compared them to this 
or that leaf picked up     at the grocery store 
in the humdrum summer     heat and tourist haze. 
Yes, I have leaned my leg     into them to be stung, 
if only for the sake     of feeling. I have carried 
chosen pains and those     stumbled through all day 
and let them welt     and redden me. Yes, I have
stood wincing in a stream     beside festooning nettles.
I have allowed myself     to go all numb, my ancestor,  
beyond the simple pain     of feeling what nourishes.

I returned from searching     for the next plot 
metered ten-by-ten     where two years prior fire 
deviled everything     to pebbled dirt and black. 
My job to lead a group     of students from square 
to square to count what     new grew there: trees, 
forbs and grasses. Heat     cicada-buzzed me quiet,
the group quiet, stalked     between boy-high stems
of fireweed. the bloom-     stalks like cairns covered
in pink butterflies. My eyes     unable to find anyone
in the world talling back     into itself, rooted in black
release of what it takes    to root again. Clouds piled
up as they might have     when the strike caught.
No one spoke and I could     not find them. My steps
crushed one or another     plant. I parted greenly 
into the circle of young     hands sticky with fireweed
reek and feathered     by wisps of seeds like words
I could not speak, have     not yet learned to speak,
my ancestor, outside this     voice I use to speak to you.

Neither of us ever fought     in a war that was not 
playing at war as boys     before we met and became 
friends who never fought.     The wars I played at 
were with boys I knew     and usually included 
melting plastic army men     or lighting the fuses 
of as many bottle rockets     as we could tape or tie 
to try to launch the men     we had not melted 
into the street. The wars     you played at were not 
anything we talked about.     The river called and 
sometimes we answered     together, like the time 
before my marriage ended     in a peaceful accord 
when a storm sprung up     no more quickly than any 
other August afternoon     but quick enough and with 
enough charge crackling     through it that we had 
to hustle from the side     channel toward the car. 
You never liked lightning     or thunder. You never 
liked to show how scared     you were of air, so we fled
into the cottonwood grove     dappled with already-
fallen leaves and sunlight     and elk bones. We hustled 
and lowered our rods     and watched the hairs 
on our arms for the terror     of standing. And just like 
that the trees show-curtained     onto a river channel 
facing the stormlit peaks     I had lived near for years 
and just then did not know,     the same channel we had
left minutes before.     We were together, my ancestor, 
when inattention to the line     between place and thought 
in fear of a bolt were a circle     we looped before any rain.
I was with you once     when you killed an elk
and once when we tracked     one wounded through
a long, cold day. Apart     when you watched a man
breathe in the river     and when I kindled 
my partnered life to ash     before replanting. You 
have lost more people     you love than I have lost, 
my ancestor, and someday     I will die and you
will stand and turn     under leaflight, under bark 
scars, and there will be     a war someplace we will 
not visit and I hope     my son will not be there.
I wonder, my ancestor,     will you remark on how 
the river channels are dry     where they used to be.

This time, the extinction     event is profusion 
and black bear shit-slurry     worrying the trail.
Fingerling branches bow     with berryweight before 
teeth and lips strip them     nearly bare. If I am 
not taking off my clothes     in the woods, then I am 
thinking about disrobing     and the bright pricks 
of frost or sunlight     honing me. Off trail, 
the rivulet loudens,     and the maze of things 
presents itself as shadows     beyond each selection.
I am one of those people     who was told, “Turn 
right. Turn right. Turn     right.” I have heard 
that fruit sweetens after     a hard frost. My body, 
as do bodies, stiffens     and softens. The crush 
of seedflesh in my mouth     bitters me inside 
as if dust. I have fallen     face-first into clawmarks 
on the coated skins    of aspens. Broken-branch 
scars eye me or flit     away like waxwings.
Some birds become     so much fermented fruit 
they lose the will     to flight. Some bears reach 
past shambled wasp nests     and tug the fine 
branches mouthward.     I have been talking 
with my bare tongue     about the speechless places. 
I have felt their tang fall,     like a spider thread, 
into my belly. Some cubs     let the profusion of fine 
twigs hold them until all     the fruits are pits.
Snow will clamp down     and after that, sprouts.

I keep telling this story     and yet I cannot identify 
the species of needled tree     I prepared to live 
my life under. You are,     by now, familiar 
with the details: child,     birthday, trail, two lakes, 
excitement into a dash     up the wrong trail, tall 
grass, red needles, evening,     solitude. I do not 
remember loving or even     reading stories of boys
lost in wild places or raised     by wild mothers. 
Instead, I liked the one     about the boy who flew
an airplane made of bread     dough. I never cared 
where he landed. I know     that I felt, whether 
or not this really happened,     as if I could become
this ragged life raised     by a conifer I still cannot 
name, raised on a green     slope punctuated by forbs 
under branch shadow     and comforted by the red-
needled duff and cones.     I sense now, with that sense 
underneath my senses,     how some new self 
birthed itself that day,     how quiet I could be, 
and how you, my ancestor,     with your unusual name 
called out my plain     name over the slope 
of plants just tall enough     to hold me out of sight, 
and how my tongue     spoke the language of bark 
instead of tumbling     into your arms. Even that young, 
I knew what I would always     be leaving. I have 
known other women     and men, other forests 
with their many trees,     and I have felt in myself 
your ancient feeling:     disappointment and, 
underneath, my ancestor:     the pulsing of sap.

I will not stop giving     myself bodily to 
the meadow. Stems     of alpine timothy bend 
under me in their ancient     way of offering 
to spring back up     as soon as I go on.
I have no memories     of a mouth that did not 
sip from culms. One     of these days, I’ll be 
underground or sprinkled     over a field in flower 
or a field of snow     or planted with the roots 
of a little tree ready     to embrace everything 
but the metal bits     of me, the mercury 
and screws. To be made     again of sunlight 
and the reachings     of radicles is the oldest 
memory I’ve written     into each place 
I’ve touched and every     touching part of me.
Oh, to reek of earth again     and to be unconcerned 
with patterns made     of stars or words.