Deeper than trees beating their wings or the purblind stare
Of a black snake circumscribing a sapling's wrist.
Father carefully penciled facts, describing rust,
Habitat, genus, disease, but his meticulous chart
Of change didn't teach me to name the woods' mysterious heart.
Father, I'm frightened. Why are things so beautiful and sad?
My voice had dusted moss, like snow, without a sound.
Stern and tall, he cupped his chin. As if in pain
He paused, then reached into his pocket for a pen.
Don't ever make things up. Write only what you see.
Name the woods and you'll have named the world, he said.
He tore some pages off and handed me his pad.
I heard the current crimp, mimetic, on the pond,
And larch or beech or birds murmuring over me. The task
Was how to write birch when I saw the crumbling, pale tusk
Of a fallen mastodon bridging the path, or ash, when the air
Was frenzied with the head of a neighbor's rain-black mare.
Sycamore waved at me like drowned Ophelia's hair.
From THE SQUANICOOK ECLOGUES (W.W. Norton & Co., 1987)