Feast of the Epiphany

the snow has come you whisper
and I need to get naked

but what does that mean
six-sided and feather-light

or blank as a questionnaire
for the illiterate

it’s time to settle
into a down comforter

and begin to unsay
unnecessary things

for the snow comes
not to cover but to reveal

the woods i thought i knew
laid out like a banquet

Epiphany Eve

in the January silence
my camera’s shutter
makes me jump

the sun is bright on the boulders
grains of old snow
rain down

from acrobatic birches
and oaks stretched out like yogis

filling in the sky
over floors of lichen-
clad quartzite

i sit with my back against
a tall white pine
gazing at its companion

how the plates of bark interlock
their endless variations in shape

and the woodpecker wounds
that have bled
extravagant white rivers

a raven spots
my red cap as usual
and gives my position away

the sun threads a weft of cirrus
it’s Epiphany Eve

i find fresh feather-
coats of ice
on all the woodland pools

where the trees’
shrunken images
have turned jagged and Cubist

while their high drama goes on
even in their present absence

a red-tailed hawk
sails past emitting
its eagle scream

an oak with a massive rack of limbs
can offer
travelers a perch

or frame a view
of the next mountain

so much like this one
except it faces us

and suddenly i see
how a vista
can be a mirror

the kind we’ve always wanted
that keeps its distance

here among the trees
i am glad just
to be in this body

the day before
a forecast snowstorm
to walk forest roads

that lead nowhere in particular
and take their time


so what if the labile moon
becomes your emblem

the half-shell upon which
your camino is served up

sew it into the lining of a coat
for use in emergencies

a subway token for the underworld
or an owl’s limitless eye

stirring up the birds
in your bedroom tree

its screen will sell you nothing
in glowing detail

it claims one egg
from every clutch

it brings out your darkest shadow
once a month

The Hollow After Christmas

where a buck rubbed
the felt from his crown

fog drifts through the trees
without getting snagged

the day after Christmas
it’s not accurate to say the ground is bare

it hosts a 10-million-piece puzzle
of the fallen in brown and gray

a hickory nut still in its hull
is riding out the rain

like my last lost idea
nestled among roots

a red flourish of surveyor’s paint
flakes from a dead oak

while a power pole marked up by bears
is turning green

who knows what markings
might outlive us

stay too long in one place
and all the faces change

the once-vernal pools
now hold water year-round

which means we’re witnessing
the birth of a bog

it fattens on raindrops
each one a bull’s eye

the water seems murky
but it’s only the fog’s reflection

down below this cloud ceiling
a train blows its horn three times

instead of the usual six
i keep listening for the rest

my fingers grow cold
daylight begins to fade

shadows flit through the woods
heading for their roosts

at a crossroads of trails
traffic is light

just the clouds and me and then
just the clouds

Winter Bells

high above the town
a tree rests on a black stone of sap

like an exclamation mark
for a life sentence

or the old hearth and chimney
that i found yesterday

standing alone
deep in the state forest

we are confronted by the absent
the deciduous undead

drained of sap
immune to the provocations of sunlight

their pantomimes of desire
reduced to mere architecture

while stones dance
through freeze and thaw

all winter long now
rocking in their cradles of leaves

the day after the solstice
the sun reappears

in the dark ice-free end
of a woodland pool

for a long moment just after noon
amid the clamor of bells

The Elephant, Revisited

the elephant has left the room
disguised as many gray trees

this isn’t a political poem
missing elephants are everywhere

at the end of November
one needs a woolly coat

but there’s a certain slant of light
that induces mild euphoria

let’s all raise our arms
to summon an old flame

red crest of the good god bird
no ordinary peckerwood

cackling down at me
in my red checked cap

just before dusk a rifle booms
and i remember what moon this is

it looks so much less mammoth
once it escapes the trees

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

The November Shuffle

to walk through new-fallen leaves
is to raise a thunderous hush

at the trailhead a red maple
grown grandiloquent with age

sends me in the wrong direction
past an abandoned scout camp

and a red oak with four massive trunks
festooned with wild grapevines

i scramble upslope to the trail
slipping on dry oak leaves

a tiger moth caterpillar
isn’t moving in the cold

black and bristly as the fisher
fleeing down the trail ahead of me

more like a badger than a weasel
more trundle than leap

the sun comes out and shows me
the shadow sides of things

a snag wearing a shroud
made of paper birch

beeches flaunting a fool’s gold
of lifeless leaves

tiny mushrooms gathered in a hollow
among yellow birch roots

i pause to snap a photo
and let other walkers pass

two panting humans and a poodle
modeling utter joy

throwing himself at the trail
as it turns up a ravine

completely if temporarily in love
with the smallest of waterfalls

i drop back to regain my solitude
worn out by a lingering cold

pick up yet another glossy leaf
to use as a tissue

on the way to the summit of the second
highest mountain in the state

the vistas are grand but I’m here
for the twisted oaks

finding alternate routes to the sun
through all that ridgetop wind

do they fight it or worship it
like Jacob wrestling in the darkness

but how strategic to drop their sails
before the arctic blasts

and with their leaves down
they are fantastical eldritch rococo

the only oaks that aren’t bare yet
are less than a foot tall

embers to catch the eye
of a young man laboring past

on his mountain bicycle
looking at the ground

from here the mountains of home
disappear into the haze

downslope the trees are younger
but bigger and full of themselves

the trail deviates from the map
re-created for two-wheeled recreation

i head off-trail and soon
become un-lost again

reveling in this leaf litter
a shambles not unlike my own

witch hazel blossoms dangle
in the low-angled sun

but my gaze goes
to the moss and ferns

and every last scrap
of embattled green

Blue Knob State Park, November 4, 2024


Our lives are an amnesty given us.
William Stafford

meanwhile the trees
are relaxing their grip

turning toward sleep
in a kind of hypnagogia

vivid and hallucinatory
against the gray


though the sign itself is yellow
as are many red maples

it’s the most primary
that school-bus color

meanwhile children play tag
outside an Amish school

in clothes so plain
it marks them as exotic

one of them rooted to the spot
scrunching up his face

a hole opens in the clouds
but not for any missiles

meanwhile skeletons
are unsettling in front yards

one pushes a lawnmower
towards several bony arms

like barked sticks
sprouting from manicured grass

in the distance some engine
i don’t notice until it stops

and i’m left with the sound
of my footsteps in fallen leaves

walking the empty bed
of a former coal country railroad

past pastures and high hayfields
up into the autumn hills

just below the clouds
a raven gives his voice box a shake

and out tumbles
something like a child’s cry
crossed with a horn

18 October 2023

Above the River

there’s no mountain
to the cloud

its shadow wandering
lonely as a poet

who no longer believes
in the power of words

as another name escapes
the tip of my tongue

trees are applauding the wind
their life-long mentor

the black birches are yellow
and the black gums
a pale salmon

a hawk flies through the forest
carrying something small
and very dead

a white-tailed deer
raises and lowers
her eponymous flag

as her antlered companion
seems almost to dance
between the boulders

there’s so little soil
the big oaks get their roots out
before they enter the ground

i take my seat
against a chestnut oak
we rock together in the wind

occasionally it makes
a high inhuman sound
that vibrates in my bones