Skin

James Longenbach

He could imagine landing, coasting forever
On its untouched plains. Or

Perhaps there'd been farms,
A ring of cottages.
The horses safe, corralled.

Blank surface rising to his eyes
As if it were a wave—
Now close, now far.

Old demarcations, piles
Of stones. Lines signaling that once

A field was turned,
Lay fallow, fell into disuse.
Soon trunks grew tall as weeds.

Then shrank away: a forest
Burnt to nothing and the farms not left behind

But razed, herd roaming free—
The grasses sharp
As nails beneath their hooves

And the river rising,
Flattening out to nothing
On the soil, festered, rough: the muscle

Torn, then healing, then
He touched the scar.

James Longenbach was an American poet and critic. His books include Earthling and How Poems Get Made.
Originally published:
January 1, 2002

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