Greens

the green of moss on an oak
three years dead

the green of greenbriar
on which a deer has grazed

the green of a bench in the woods
where vows were once exchanged

the green of garlic mustard
before it becomes too bitter

the green of ferns that have borne
the weight of snow

the green of winter wheat in the distance
when the sun comes out

the green of lichen on a rock
finding everything it needs

the green of leaves that won’t return
to a toppled witness tree

the old green of trailing arbutus
rushing into bloom for a few cold flies


Plummer’s Hollow, PA
March 17, 2024

After Life

in a thin soil of its own making
over slabs of ancient sea floor

the vacant shell of a pine
still stands below the ridge crest

gapped open like an iron maiden
with horns of wood

where branch collars
expanded ring by ring

now left behind when
the rest of it rotted out

the limbs they anchored gone
that whole green cathedral

in an afterlife where birds
can perch within

and snowflakes
fine as the hairs on a caterpillar

the squall hits just
as I clear the trees

painting us all white
in a matter of minutes

every twig and pine needle
furred with absence

and hours later when i hike
back up from the other side

following an abandoned
haul road through the rocks

it happens again
the valley lost in whiteout

and i descend through a blur
glasses safe in my pocket

telling myself it’s a spring snow
here and gone

that a glimpse is all we get
of winter any more

trees turned into
a forest of ghosts

as i reach the car
the view finally opens up

a snowy field green
with winter wheat

and a factory holding
5000 hogs they say

though nothing emanates
but a faint hum

the length of its roof pristine
in laboratory white

Canoe Mountain
PA State Game Lands 166
March 10, 2024

The Well

this ignorance of mine is deep
as the cloudless sky

in which a small
woodpecker is tapping

having somehow heard
the faint stirring of a grub

i follow a deer track
to its source in a deer bed

a snow-free patch of leaves
shaped like a body

in the pines in the pines
where the sun comes undone

i follow a creak
to its source in the wind

rocking an oak snag
upon which so much must hinge

a barred owl query at noon
elicits a raven croak

this too is poetry
i only have to listen

Short Mountain
February 18, 2024

Gone to the Pine

in the stories i tell myself
i am sour milk

good for pancakes
or a cat if i had one

sitting somewhere warm
fur shining white

i am empty-handed
and approximately dressed

but look how much pine
can be knit just from sunlight

evergreen needles
barely moving

though i feel an icy breath
on the back of my neck

coming out of the rocks
where i’ve arranged my seat

just below the crest
of a high wooded spine

the tall pine is hollow
with a stripe of dead wood

from a devastating flash
severing the present

from the past with its absence
of woodpeckers

i follow the shadow
to a seedling pine

on a small carpet of moss
laid out on the rocks

the stories shed
their owl pellets

time to hunker down and scavenge
the best bits

Rothrock State Forest above Barree
Feb. 3, 2024

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

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 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

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

The Turn

it starts with a zipper in the rain
that soft syllable

an oak leaning into
its impending death

you can shelter under it
as open as a book

it starts red and wrong
as an oak apple

old sapsucker holes bleeding
pale sap down a spruce

rain collecting in a hollow
atop an exposed birch root

so the tree can mainline it
like an autumn addict

mushrooms glory
in their fruiting bodies

as black drupes swell on maple-
leafed viburnum

and beechdrops’ self-fertilized flowers
hide under a twiggy bouquet

it’s a kind of spring
buried in the heart of autumn

just before antlers turn
from trees into weapons

and every leaf in the forest
goes off-script

A Walk in the Park

dead tree green
with poison ivy

sugar maples self-grafting
like circus freaks

a black birch wearing
a hollow locust tree like a coat

these are among
the unsettling attractions

at the Allegheny Portage Railroad
National Historic Site

a monument to the great unsettling
of the American West

but what’s bitter in the morning
may be sweet by afternoon

i drink hot tea from a thermos mug
like an offering to the heat

staying one pace ahead
of my cloud of insects

though i stop for everything:
the man-made cliffs

dripping with native plants
the detours to peer

at old stone culverts
the interpretive signs

slowly being reinterpreted
by age and weather

preservation and transformation
are dance partners here

foundations are buried
for their protection says a sign

with a photo of the little we’re missing
in black and white

meanwhile the bumblebees
are making love to yellow touch-me-nots

Bombylius major pokes his pointy snout
deep into a lobelia

and a mother leads two teenagers
on a sullen walk for their health

now we are beginning
to get somewhere i think

as an alarmed pickerel frog
disappears into his puddle

and although one might wish
for less proximity to a highway

the trees are old and strange
and i am in my element

no longer on the way to elsewhere
people choose to live here in the hills

our journeys are local
our histories are brief

a sign exhorts us to leave
no trace

August 25, 2023