Off Trails

struck long ago by lightning
charred heart open to the sky

what doesn’t kill you
leaves you damaged

climbing a mountain to learn
what you already know

like telling the pines apart
by how they whisper

or marveling at birch twigs
etched in sunlight

on the shadow
of the neighboring mountain

and underfoot the moss cracked
like mud in a honeycomb pattern

a kind of ur-text
about cells and absence

the way a life was laid down
ring by ring in a log

or how after the rungs rot away
and the tree topples over

it’s not a ladder anymore
the bark’s long gone

there are just these troupes of rusty nails
awaiting further orders

the sky so clear your binoculars
pick out distant windblown leaves

or follow a hawk
following the ridge for miles

with the leaves down a white
clapboard church appears

with a steeple to staple it in place
between the river and the railroad

where shipping containers roll past
night and day

from this height like pale capsules
full of bad medicine

this is the trouble with all
tracks and paths

it’s time to stop following
and set your feet free

on a careful descent

stepping from rock to rock
stopping for twisted oaks

and tall straight pines no 19th-century
logger is coming back for

though a thousand feet downslope
and you’re in pole timber

the whited sepulcher of a tip-up mound
marks the shift from ironstone to shale

through long shadows made feathery
by young white pines

footfalls mingle contrapuntally
with woodpecker taps

on a twisty back road
the tarmac cracks in honeycomb patterns

and the low sun is attentive
to every detail of mummified roadkill

its five-fingered paw
still stretched out

just past a sign that reads


on bare wood
in letters of faded blue

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