You can’t write poems about trees when the woods are full of policemen
-Bertolt Brecht

Somewhere’s a frond,
a leaf green beneath a canopy
of deciduous trees in the colonies,

blades jackknifed under jack pines,
in places the settlers occupied.
Ferns shied away from our fingers’ touch,

from humans and our taxonomy.
Some we called Mimosa Pudica,
the shrinking, sensitive plant,

one that closes its bashful leaves
and uncurls in ten to fifteen minutes.
once the unpleasantness proceeds.

Its shyness is only momentary,
the passing glimpse of a lunar eclipse,
a vision that disturbs us, then languishes.

Sometimes grazing the fern with fingers
fans it, its lapsing. Sometimes it closes
from the heat of a forest in flames.

When policemen entered the woods,
did you stop running to record
the fern’s peaceful curl?

Do you, too, write poems about trees
when the woods are full of policemen?
Were you running at all? Did you see?

In childhood I found a quiet place,
untouched by drought, the noxious
scent of gunpowder, sheltered from heat.

I sat there in the woods a while,
and wrote what I’d seen: the forest
casting a canopy I was shadowed beneath.
I saw there in the trunk of a fallen tree
a fern growing, its delicate blades
paper-thin, stretching to sunlight.

When I reached out to touch it,
its blades recoiled away from me,
withering at their slight ends.

I waited the time it would take
for the fern to uncurl,
and the forest to feed its roots.

When it didn’t, I closed my eyes too,
and peeked every few seconds to see
if the world would again open itself to me

All that appeared was the shape of its leaves,
light-reflecting chlorophyll green,
which I saw then as beauty— not pain.

When I close my eyes,
who watches me? Who’s writing
poems about trees?

Somewhere is a fern turning away
from the forest set in flames.
Somewhere police are murdering

unarmed black men and women.
In Baltimore, where a cop car burns,
steel folding like a fern.

When each citizen’s eyes close,
who’s watching then,
who’s waiting to see?

Can you describe a fern
while the forest burns?
Can you see the fire through the leaves?

This poem “IN THE FOREST AFTER BRECHT” originally appeared in Emerging Scholars. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 226 (Autumn 2015): 73-75.

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