Angel oak tree

Two Poems by Katharine Coles

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One can die. This
Numinous skin. The way

Flesh becomes everything
And everything around it

Taken in. Including all
It’s not but may anticipate

Or imagine. Including drag
Its belly; including perform

A hundred push-ups on a rock
And sun shining, all in

A day’s work, and
Curling up at day’s end into

A ball of self, under a leaf
Or thicket of softest green,

Waking again noticing
The sun has risen, not

Another day keeps
Coming up new, going by.




for biologist Phyllis Coley


       1.    It works its way through the canopy.
Leaf by leaf, it ruminates
On what its body makes. Trees chew over
News and light, muttering, but the leaf

Can’t escape. If it thinks, it imagines
Being chewed apart, dismember-
ment enacted, routine. How to shrug it off,
How repel. Above deep shade emanates

Blue and dazzle, but neither
Leaf nor worm knows a thing about
Light’s scattering—or do they?—or that

When I take to the tops of trees
I want to fly but fall. Beneath,
They occupy themselves: a worm, the leaf

       2.    It consumes in time. Why should they
Be different than we are in this way,
Each selved, absorbed, at work. The worm might
Turn into a metaphor for whatever

Grows and eats, whatever rustles,
And fights the other off, or fails, but
It remains a worm, stubborn. Metaphor
Extends itself or sticks it to us

While we grieve the body, our minds
Consumed with it. We feed
Ourselves, on ourselves. This morning
And every morning I clean my teeth,

Preparing them, failing, becoming
Already part of the feast.




Katharine ColesKatharine Coles’s new collection of essays, The Stranger I Become: On Walking, Looking, and Writing, will be published by Turtle Point Press in May 2021. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah.
Read poetry by Katharine Coles also appearing in Terrain.org: three poems and three poems.
Header photo by Mike Ver Sprill, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Katharine Coles by Kent Miles.

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