Letter to America by Suzanne Matson

One Poem

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Dear America,

Your Southeast forests are dry and burning
in blazes that were “human-caused,”
whether accident or arson.
The ground and brush were tinder, ready
for the kiss of spark, and rains
that didn’t come all summer still
aren’t coming, or not enough. In the spring,
after snows have bandaged the raw
burns, then melted into ferns
and grasses, I’m going to walk across
that mountain range. America,
I admit this is a little
selfish. I want to leave behind
the noise of bitterness and rancor.
When the wild azalea bloom
in Georgia, I’ll be there. I bought
a one-way ticket, though I’ll return
eventually, stitching contrails
from blue to red to blue again.
I doubt you’ll change much when I’m gone,
though I might. I’ll be paring to
the bone: something to keep warm,
a tent, food I can carry.
Excuse me for not listening
to anything but nesting birds
and mammals rustling in the dark.
I’ll have no way to get
your headlines. I’ll be counting out
my miles, following daylight, depending
on the kindness and civility
of strangers sharing news about
the trail ahead. My new state
will be from oldest rock—collided seam
from when the planet’s shell
was migratory, like birds and people.

America, it’s time to quench the flames.
Stop flicking matches to the wind.
Stop wounding what we claim to love.
There are precious few do-overs
left, and it’s not clear at all
that streams the guidebooks call reliable
will flow when we set out on foot again.




Suzanne MatsonSuzanne Matson has published two books of poetry, Sea Level and Durable Goods, with Alice James Books, and three novels with W. W. Norton, most recently, The Tree-Sitter. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Boston Review, Poetry Northwest, The Southern Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Shenandoah, The Cortland Review, Terrain.org, and many other journals. She has received writing fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Read poetry by Suzanne Matson previously appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo of Appalachian National Scenic Trail marker by Steven Raubenstine, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Suzanne Matson courtesy Suzanne Matson.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.