The Wilderness around Us and Other Poems


The Wilderness around Us

There is no specific material object that is wilderness. The term designates a quality (as the ‘-ness’ suggests) that produces a certain mood or feeling in a given individual and, as a consequence, may be assigned by that person to a specific place.
—Roderick Frazier Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind


In the voice of my ancestor, whose name is unknown.
________ Fuller, to Matthew Fuller in Leyden, Holland: Early November, 1620

I have become a shivering rib,
but together all of us saints

form a ship. We carry
instructions of order


to the New World. As we push
our way south, the sea fights us,


sends currents of tentacled strangers
against us. I fear that I might perish


before we arrive—that you will grow
to a man, but my sunken eyes


will never see your future. I long to meet
your children, and their children, to hear


footsteps and laughter spilling
over warm floorboards.


To mend their holes, tend their gardens,
keep warm stew for them always


on the hearth. I’ve heard the forests
are vast and impenetrable, with wolves


and other shadows. If the land
becomes a snake, your father will wrap


her up in knots, tie her tongue. He will speak
to the birds in the fields


and the birds will listen. Amen. He will banish
the thorns and thickets, make safe


the soil that you will walk upon. Do not fear,
for the acres will be settled before you arrive,


if I have to get out and swim
to ready a pillow for your head.


Or if I could, become an island, a pile
of rock smoothed by the hands


of God, with a garden blooming
between the mounds of my breasts.


Not like the other garden. No snakes
or hairy beasts will mar my shores.


I want to know more than just a body
rocking ceaselessly. Land shrinks


to a memory of stillness, a grain of sand
swallowed by the ocean, but I know


even beneath the sea, land lies sleepily,
dark and patient, though we cannot see it.
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