TWO POEMS by Tess Taylor


At landfall at rocks edge
in a tidal channel
the ocean trades continent quartz for maple

plovers for orioles
saltgrass for mussels—
caching new silt for bottom feeders.

We too come as scavengers.
We hunker in the sand.
We elbow land and muck

that sucks and tows as if
it wants to sink us back
into its primordial dark.

As if we harvest ancestors.
We burrow deep, past shards.
We finger, loosen, tug:

Our quahogs squelch up blue-black.
Sea rises in their hollows.
Cockeyed gulls— old sentinels—

wait but for a few hours we hold
our old hole on the side of the world,
sharing a place as gatherers.

Our meal comes home in a dented tin.
Fragile harvest that my hands
grow raw with sluicing.

The sea turns bucket-galvanize.
We toss shells out on the rocks again.
We eat day and sea,

the coastline’s living tongue.




Nights under these stars, you
try to identify old constellations.

Casseiopiea, Andromeda, the mythic forms—
you half forget their stories.

But on warm nights, seeing them,
your throat also fills with shapes of hymns

someone’s holdfast tunes
to which your words are also blurred or blurring.


You read somewhere about Phsyologus,
mythic Greek cosmologist; one namer of a given universe.

You also borrow someone’s Audubon,
then wander trying to match

shoots in damp mulch
to names. Unfurling, embryonic

joe-pye; skunk cabbage; jack in the pulpit;

You note new maple fractals, leaves shining as broken
glass in forest air—

After lunch you dream
an orrery of leaves and bones.

You do not know bird that goes tow-hee or cali-cut.
You pronounce the book-names

to feel their pleasure on your tongue—
earthstar, clubmoss, vibernum.


Beyond you, one or another city;
constellated light-map on the ground.

Oil-drums; downed tankers; spirochetes;
terrorists; radios; laboratories; specimens;
ice-cream trucks; parking lots and hopscotch;

methamphetamine; medical waste; elaborate cheese;
pandemics; global economic crisis.

You burn your newspaper on cold mornings
watching its blue green flame.

This is not forever. But also you think
this is my time on earth.

Waking, you find a thumb sized tree frog climbing
your porch screen— underbelly

shaking, limbs prehensile, grappling
body open to all elements, scrambling

borderland, exchanging
atmosphere at every point; live thing,

fascinated elaborate suspension
you lose yourself in watching;

Delightedly, mind aloft, you call
A frog! A frog! out to the rustling woods.

And this is all.
                                O wriggling climber.
You rejoice for the frog.

                Stupidly, also sadly, you
sing your own bright springtime song.



I  believe that even as we are angered and saddened and disgusted by rampant waste, by mismanagement of resources, by political posturing and corporate greed, we also cannot lose our ability to praise, to name, and to attend to. In fact we must name- both those things that are damaged, and those things which we wish to preserve.  Our attention to the things of beauty in the world- the earth objects that vitally support us- is itself an ecological act. Naming and noticiing shifts of weather and season,plants, animals, bugs, fungi, lichen (which has much to teach us, being able to live for thousands of years)– knowing and naming, and learning more, and caring more: feeling intimacy with the earth is the source of our care for it.  Watching and naming, praying and praising: these are the most basic forms of repair, and these give languages to root us in other work, of physically tending to broken places near us, whether cleaning damaged birds or littered coastlines. To name is not only to claim, in dominion, but to relate with and to, to care for, to begin to know and empathize with. If this is the case, let us name and name and name.


TESS TAYLOR has received writing fellowships from Amherst College, the American Antiquarian Society, the Headlands Center for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. Her chapbook, The Misremembered World, was published by the Poetry Society of America. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Review, theHarvard Review, Literary Imagination, The Times Literary Supplement, Memorious, and The New Yorker. She is currently the 2010-2011 Amy Clampitt Resident, and works one day a week on an organic farm.

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