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Cedar forest with sunlight

Two Poems by Jennifer K. Sweeney

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Wildest

The hour of snacks and homework
and we’re enlarging the world with adverbs of scale.
See how easily smooth becomes smoother,
how we can silk it further to the sheen that is most
itself. You are taller, stronger, a little further
from my center, but not furthest
(may we stop here in the horizon note of further)
and you want to know how accretion applies to wild.
One field left longer, one never entered
by anything that sought to change it.
Say wild and the honeysuckle curls round the cedar
and the cedar’s silence mats a soft floor in winter
whose most faithful withholding buckles
the cloudhead. Say wilder and it’s less
bewildering, more why,
the cloud funneling now, the animals hurried
into the barn, and we’re left
staring at the floodwaters salting our questions.
Wilder rakes its impulsive hand over us
and we ride off the road in the night.
And wildest, what sprung cosmos is that?
I hope we never see it enough to know
as here in this measured plot we keep turning
the hose on the fire ants and they 
dutifully froth up. Somewhere lives
expanses never perceived, deepest praise
all the lost coasts, outbacks, untrodden
tundras of this world, its earths too wild
to survive us. My boy wants to know
how wild it gets. As long as there is land
that has never breathed in
our borrowed must of oxygen,
then the mandrakes quiver in their sacs;
as you curl into sleep, the dryad
is out there pressing her most unburdened head
against evening’s northest altar.

 

 

Kindling

After her husband died of cancer
a woman went out to the forest

with four friends at midnight. Wine-drunk,
someone got the notion to dismantle

a beaver dam. They hooted, loosening
the bark and clod, undoing the assemblage

of roots latticed beneath the cold rush
of water, arms blackened to breaking.

When the knotted wall was no more,
they hid behind rocks where by the stars’

debris a set of paddles emerged in the fray.
The woman watched the huddle affix

each brambly clump just so like masoners
at work, fitfully mending it higher, stronger

within the hour, no room for loss
amidst the efficiency of will and while

her friends passed the bottle
and had a good laugh, she clung

to a paper birch, the sky
reckless in its vacancies.

 

 

 

Jennifer K. SweeneyJennifer K. Sweeney is the author of Foxlogic, Fireweed (The Backwaters Press/University of Nebraska Press, 2020), Little SpellsJames Laughlin Award winner How to Live on Bread and Music, and Salt Memory. She lives in Redlands, California, and teaches at the University of Redlands. Visit her at www.jenniferksweeney.com.

Read four poems and the essay “White Noise” by Jennifer K. Sweeney previously appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo by Anna Om, courtesy Shutterstock.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.