Poetry

Time, Rampant and Flourishing

Jennifer Chang

Certain forests, like this one, invoke
the twentieth century, though this is not a forest

but a city park, land cordoned
for natural recreation—a manmade stream,
black willow trees loved by honeybees, paper-white moths,
and so loved by the wood thrush. Often a trail
is taken
                                with little thought as to where
time leads, what place permits the body
to think and be
                                    more, then who measures the centuries and
does a forest conclude?
This one, tucked

                                          away like a dream, belongs first to the municipality
and then to a population
                                                of white-tailed deer, some say rampant
some say flourishing. Once it belonged

to a senator of a western state, who set a small stone house
near that loamy clearing. He found these trees

                                                                                    peculiar. Hardwood, deciduous,
not unlike the woman he loved but would not
marry. Why not?
                                    It was a different century.

Consider the tree of heaven
consider the bamboo. What is not native
takes over, and here their roots tangle
underfoot, form an unexpected grove,
an alteration within all this green. The senator’s house
has turned now
                                    into a heap of ruin. Otherwise unremarkable,
he was not so prosaic as to wed himself

                                                                                                      to habit: how easily

being young can be a habit
of being wrong, of writing letters
only to hear one’s own voice.
                                                            Love is hard
because who it affirms
is not always the loved one,
                                                            is not always the lover, so what does it affirm?

I used to never care about affirmation. I merely followed you
night after night
until one morning I grew tired
of particularity                   and was alone. Does it matter, then,
that the senator never married, dithering instead
                                                                                                            between such mute trees,

which, yes, we may have passed once,
tenderly, and a meadow
                                                                  of copious grasses, the names becoming

a secret lexicon, each name             a blade of law. It is a park
or it is a forest. It is older
than any heart.

Jennifer Chang is the author of Some Say the Lark, which received the 2018 William Carlos Williams Award. She is the poetry editor of New England Review and teaches at the University of Texas in Austin.
Originally published:
September 20, 2021

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