Because only dwarf birches grow here, we dream
of tall trees. Where we came from, a conifer was a church.
Ask the pine, the yew. Ask the spruce how it makes its mind a mirror.
To watch wind riffle leaves: even the smallest tree
is being told a question whose answer must hide heaven’s rain.
Where roots beg the hard ground for mercy. Where to grip is not to hold.
Because the earth will not relent, nor the stars in their aching.
Because to climb is not to scale, but to break. To fall.
Ask, if you remember, the wych elm, linden or aspen. But do not ask the ash.
To live on air and from water: this is our task. But we grow
old, as the world grows, from sacrifice in a silence of branches.
Where once a death by gallows, now this spreading green, this waking.
Because I could have told you something you’d forgotten.
Because it would not have been more true than a shaking of leaves in light.
Ask hazel and holly for their most holy names. They will tell you the sound of tomorrow.
To dream of far lands in petal-fall time. To think your life
might have been different in an orchard of wishes.
Where a tree is the world, time is governed by a seed. It is not yours to swallow.
Gillian Cummings is the author of My Dim Aviary, winner of the 2015 Hudson Prize (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). She has also written three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Ophelia (dancing girl press, 2016). Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Boulevard, the Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, The Laurel Review, and in other journals.