Trees and Their Forbidden Things [Eileen Walsh Duncan]

Every fall the Douglas firs here drop
billions of cones, their blunt heads ramming the ground,
reddish husks intact. Like tight buds before bloom they lie,
scales sealed or agape over the seeds, each seed damp as sapwood,
the fetus of a giant.

Vulnerable to the nubbed nose of the Douglas squirrel,
to the matte beaks of finches, siskins, sparrows, and juncos, they wait.
Needle-like leaves of firs descend like a blanket
knit of air. Under this cover, the seeds can begin.

Fall’s diversity of sustenance – leaf, sap, cone,
branch, seed, larvae – becomes winter’s entitlement.
All things that flap and wriggle will feast.

We live intimately with these trees: the air they’ve scoured clean,
the earth they build of needle-leaves and hold vastly in roots,
the gray-green sky their hundreds of millions form above us.

Snug in our homes of framing, joists, and knotty furnishings,
we drowse oblivious as their intimate lives cycle –
each one a hermaphrodite, casting pollen while swelling cones —
often mislabeled as transgender.

Yet if we dig, taproots lead us to evidence-based thirst,
starting when one filament pops from the papery
wings of a seed, threading down in a lifelong
journey toward deepest water.

To believe that you’re reading this poem is to believe in wisps
traced on the sheer heart of a tree, or in an arrangement
of pixels shimmering on a screen.

To believe in the science-based is to believe in every mystery
as it unfolds pungently, concretely
towering into the light.


Eileen Walsh Duncan’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in the Pacific Northwest under innumerable Douglas firs.

Inspiration: Seven words have now been given far more power than if they had languished in the pages of a budget request.


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