By their initials and first names scratched into quartzite
underfoot, I know the culprits: Otto like a fancy scar
on a buffalo’s flank, Sven muddling the lines of a glyph,
the meaning of its shape forgotten, and Judy who needed to record the date
of defacement. I hear her story from the guide: how she stole her father’s chisel,
chipped her way into a turtle’s back, how much shame she brought
to her family in this search for the lost meanings hidden within the shapes of the letters,
written on a shell next to the sun, an attempt, if I’m generous,
to contrast two languages and find, in the mixed-up symbols,
the trees of her homeland cut down long ago. She still lives. I believe, on some days,
wherever she is, she hears the forest mumbling when the wind blows across the carved twigs
of her name, out here, whispering to the nearby warriors, asking forgiveness for this trespass.
Michael Walsh is the author of The Dirt Riddles, which received the Miller Willams Prize and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. In 2021, Autumn House Press will publish Creep Love, his next poetry collection, and, in 2022, Queer Nature, an ecoqueer poetry anthology co-edited with James Crews.