Poem with Understory

Poem written so long ago
I didn’t know I was a poet,
your words fell in the desert

of childhood, downwind from the reactor.
Like what little rain reached that country,
your lines were short and sour.

Was a poem not a tumbleweed,
prickly, dying to break loose from its root
and be slammed by the wind

into the nearest chain-link fence?
No, the dead poets counseled,
a poem needed love and a shepherdess,

not rabbit brush and radioactive sheep.
Where was my muse?
On the other side of the state.

In the Olympic Mountains,
a forest of rain hugged the steep slopes.
Oh, wrap me in fog like a fir tree!

I didn’t want to see, I wanted to drink.
I went dry. I sharpened a pencil
until the point broke. The shavings curled,

then crumpled at my touch. Was it tinder
I smelled in the heartwood, or fire long banked?
As if a huge cedar had just been felled,

crushing the understory as it crashed.
And where was a poet? Where were the words
for the way such a tree held up the sky?

The way a massive pier braced the ceiling
of a cathedral, against the pressure
of a heaven airy with empty promise,

tons of stone carved into lace…
O pencil and paper! Listen to me.