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Saturday, February 14, 2015


by David Oates

Every tree with no body hanging from it
every single one,

Georgian trees, thousands of them, an earthbound cloud layer
I see from above, flying in here where I've returned for reasons, reasons,
but then a walk down among them in Piedmont Park, ruminative
(I was here decades ago, with my secret wounds, my pretending
to be straight, to be smart),

all these trees here in the midst of  moneymaking Atlanta,
and likewise out at Stone Mountain where barbeque grilles
come in pickup trucks to be with Robert E. Lee,
and trees far up in the hiking woods where no one goes,
and beside the coming and going parking places on Peachtree
with the peopled sidewalk always near,
and trees in gazebo lawn jockey suburban yards without end,

and I can't stop thinking of it, what's happened here
and what's happened so many places, Jeff Davis, Strom Thurmond, Pol Pot,
the bodies hanging, that Wyoming boy barb-wired,
everywhere really, Indians hunted down for sport
Yana Modoc Paiute Cherokee Calapooya Chinook,
and death lasering down from American planes as I write this
and I wonder what's the use, what's the use,
but then I realize

every tree I see with no body hanging from it
is some kind of victory. Every single one.

* * *

Every single tree without a body hanging
means that we're winning.

Because every tree breathes your name, so quiet you might miss it:
sunlight soaking into the cells, each photon
delivering its stellar news of awakening
to its one mild microscopic green willingness;
and the friendly air circulating
leaf by leaf along serrated edge and over tiny hair and bump and vein                                                                  
in such precision of making as cannot be stopped,
each molecule greeting the exact membrane,
breath and breathing, every moment
a million million tender to enter and leave.

Thugs and armed men have no idea.
They make wars, they hang a few or send bullets through them.
Their subtractions are puny. Their idea is puny. They thrust
and steal elections and congratulate each other.
They cannot undo the rest of us. Our idea is big.
We are always winning.

Forests of this idea grow everywhere and they keep busy
remembering it day and night: yes they do: in
cities and suburbs and freeway medians
jungles scrubs heaths chaparrals woodlots copses spinneys
a memorial world unfolding life, life, life.

The killers can only kill. We are making, making, and we cannot be stopped.

We need to remember this.
We are winning.
Every breath is the victory
and every tree -- every single one -- the promise of it.

David Oates writes about nature and urban life from Portland, Oregon. His poetry has won awards (Badonnah Award from Bitterroot Poetry, finalist for Pablo Neruda Long Poem Award from Nimrod), and appeared in many places including Poetry/LA, Yellow Silk, ISLE, Fireweed, Windfall, and California Poetry Quarterly.  His book Peace in Exile: Poems was published by Oyster River Press. He is also author of four books of nonfiction, including Paradise Wild: Reimagining American Nature from Oregon State University Press. He was Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer at the University of Montana in 2012. Oates won first place for essay from Northern Colorado Writers in August of 2014, and a Pushcart nomination. Currently his poetry and prose are being featured in the German literary magazine Wortschau in English and German. He leads the Wild Writers Seminars in Portland, and teaches workshops and graduate classes in the United States and Europe.