How often the names of trees consoled me,
how I would repeat to myself green ash
while the marriage smouldered in the not-talking,
red maple when the less-than-tenderness flashed,
then black gum as I lay next to you
in the not-sleeping, in the not-lovemaking.

Those days I tramped the morass of the preserve,
ancient ash smudging shadows on stagnant pools,
the few wintry souls skulking abandoned wharves.
In my notebook I copied plaques
screwed to bark, sketching the trunks' scission,
a minor Audubon bearing loneliness like a rucksack.

And did the trees assume a deeper silence?
Did their gravity and burl and centuries-old patience
dignify this country, our sorrow?

So as I lay there, the roof bursting with invisible
branches, the darkness doubling in their shade,
the accusations turning truths in the not-loving,
green ash, red maple, black gum, I prayed,
in the never-been-faithful, in the don't-touch-me,
in the can't-bear-it-any-longer,
black gum, black gum, black gum.

Michael Waters

MICHAEL WATERS's book, Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum, was published by BOA Editions.
(Title poem from the book Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum)