In a Bleak Time

Mid-December valley rain
hammers the sparse snow, weakens
to drizzle, then
thickens again: white fields, roofs,
roadsides absorb the falling water.

This afternoon, the dark foliage
of firs, cedars, pines
looms closer to houses, barnyards, highway
while the trees declare,
“Each spring, you utter noises of wonder
at the new leaves of the aspen. In summer
you praise the cottonwood’s
rustling canopy. In autumn, the birch
becoming golden. You express dismay when
frost and wind erase
all but trunks and branches. Yet around you
spruce, hemlock, each of us evergreens
steadfastly function,
with no need to repeat that cycle of
prancing, preening, then whimpering
—adopting the pose of nature’s pitiful victim
before sleeping, well-provisioned,
for a season. Every month
we conifers pump oxygen into air, lift moisture
from root to sky, maintain the green ridges
even under snow: an incessant labor.

“In the absence of your favored, count
how numerous we are, notice how few
the bare-limbed moaners, observe through the rain
that we constitute the forest. You regard
the majority as background, inconsequential,
though we cover every mountain slope, range
after range, keep the Earth alive.
In this pause at the edge of the ice
we step nearer to ask:
‘What words do you have
for us?’”

Questions and Answers

This poem “In a Bleak Time” originally appeared in Reading, Writing, Listening Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 241 (2020): 75-76.

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