These are notes for a poem I meant to write in August but poetry
seemed very far away then. The BC wildfires smudged the shoreline
of the Saskatchewan, everything ash on the tongue, like cigarettes
or coffee dregs, and the sun a smoked pink disc.
I had not seen you for weeks except by Skype (I’ll strip
for you, you said, and you did) but now in flesh
meandering, now talk, now silence, now climate change and
your research on the Boreal. Here’s aspen, here’s choke cherry, Look —
Is that paper birch? I asked, No, you said, then yes, yes
and here are my scribbled notes:
Betula papyrifera; small cuts
in the cream skin, like welts or gaping mouths
of blood, of rust; carved initials join lovers; a trunk stripped
except for bandaged swathes over brown flesh; a square
excised, the single deep gash for leverage and a sheet torn off; shreds
of paper on the ground. They were refugia, you told me, migrating north,
following the retreating sheets of ice.
Tell me. Where do we go from here?
Score me with desire lines, write words for songs that have none
in the wrist’s blue margins, sparse language of the tundra.
Sew me with tamarack and stretch me over cedar ribs
tipped leeward to split the river’s tongue.
You say paper birch fires quickly and burns hot. Ignite me.
I think that might have been the day, the night you sang
for me the Tzama Lecha Nafshi — my soul thirsts for you, my flesh
longs for you, in a dry parched land.