"Summer," "The Republic of Wood," and "Saying Goodbye to the World"


So secretive, so hidden, even while out in the open
So blatantly calling to us  
calling for wind and rain and passion and shadowy hideaways,
then slipping between the trees
and holding imaginary converse among the shadows
…Once I spoke to myself,
             or to whomever I thought was listening
high above a waterfall,
where I'd climbed where signs declared
no climber should transgress
... and in a private place, or so I thought,
within a public sanctuary,
one of nature’s deep cathedrals
and having made my bargain with powers unseen
(or was it, merely, 'plea'?)
turned to find the ranger 
looking on 
in tactful silence
waiting, perhaps, for me to notice his trespass
or taking his own turn 
at playing god 



The Republic of Wood

In the forest of their mutual dependence
Trees find one another
They share success
through synchronization of their deepest processes,
They dream alike,
their talk, their food, their love
Photosynthesis is the same for all,
the same transfer of sugar per the green,
growth-medicine of the leaf,
"equalizing differences between the strong and the weak."
The "underground network"
helps even the dispirited to survive
Once more, we discover, "fungi are involved."
In the forest trunks crowd together, thickening,
Let us all 'get rich together,' smiling leaders advise,
Let us do as the trees
Nearness feeds communication
The slower, smaller ones are helped, not teased,
for the tree is "only so strong as the forest that surrounds it."
Alone, their fibers disconnected, the weaker fall behind,
"fall prey to a passing malaise"
to insects and microscopic maladies
Trees grow big heads
They shake their crowns lest gaps appear in the system,
the social fabric,
leaves and flesh decline,
the weak going to the wall, chewed by bugs, sucked by fungi
Sick of the life,
the disconnected offer their bodies to predatory invaders,
thus tiny insects "seal the fate of giants"
Roots of acacia send toxic substances to their leaves,
that tasty, vulnerable, epidermis, to drive unwanted company away
They broadcast an ethylene advisory on a chemical channel
warning neighbors of the danger,
spoiling their taste for the ungulates,
causing the giraffes to walk upwind



Quotations from "The Hidden Life of Trees' by Peter Wohlleben



Saying Goodbye to the World

Now it is our turn, as the Africans say, to eat
This is how we eat the world:
From the Javan Rhinoceros we remove the horn
and those large, leather plates, like ancient armor
He is an animal who carries his own furniture on his back
He smells of comfort
The little whale, the vaquita, we wrap her in our nets
Does she make good eating?
The cats and dogs do not complain
(Well, the cats complain about everything)
The gorilla of the river wears his hair behind his head
We will have to go through him first to get it
Instead, we flush our waste into his river
The American bison immigrates to Canada,
where, with luck, they will care for his health
and where, after all, he is still 'American'
though we have already consumed his country
Sumatran tiger wears stripes like forest paintings,
like leaves and branches
We would offer our rhododendron to conceal him,
for he is compact, the midget of the line,
and yet so soon the neighbors' pup becomes his lunch
No one here has ever seen the Black-footed Ferret of the American Plains
This must be some other place, some other plains, they speak of
Where even animals can afford to live
Why is it the smaller ones so often disappear?
Because they are closest to the other world beneath the earth
where no such beasts are ever lost?
The golden-headed Langur will no longer linger,
monkey around, have sex when bored
We are peeling the walls from his jungle
The pygmy Elephant, mild of manner,
begs a greenback from a tourist
Poor thing, you can't eat money
Polar bear, white as ice,
In dreams you wander into aquariums,
eating the slower visitors, in place of seals
The Mekong Giant Catfish has swallowed the ocean,
The Elk of Ireland, your headdress of bone spreads like the wings of eagles
Kakapo, light green, gold-green, glowing in a green and ferny place
Java Eagle, hair-faced, hard-mouth, your pointy wind-swept crest a feathered antenna
listening for the re-beginning of the world
(You soar there in a heartbeat, leaving us behind)
The Great Spotted Kiwi, gray humped back bent into parentheses
nibbling the garden rose
Clouded Leopard, belly close to earth, skin a map of island skies
Hooded Seal of the North Atlantic, an IKEA mammal with an extra
part stuck on top,
its nose an extruded crevasse on the top of its moony head,
like a stamp of approval from an ancient sea
Erase the stars from the velvet sky
Roll down the mountains, one by one.
Say goodbye to animal glamour
Soon we follow,
painted ponies on the vaulted carousel



Animal species named in this poem appear on lists of most endangered species



Robert Knox

Robert Knox is a poet, fiction writer, and Boston Globe correspondent. As a contributing editor for the online poetry journal, Verse-Virtual, his poems appear regularly on that site. They have also appeared in journals such as The American Journal of Poetry, New Verse News, The Eunoia Review, and others. His poetry chapbook Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty was nominated for a Massachusetts Best Book award. He was the winner of the 2019 Anita McAndrews Poetry Award. His book of linked short stories, House Stories, was published in 2021. Robert recommends Jewish Voice for Peace.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, November 27, 2019 - 11:16