Postcard to Miller from Bernheim’s Forest

Whose woods these are I certainly know.
His name is everywhere, and without that name
on signs, envelopes, cars, jackets, and fliers
these third-growth woods would be no-growth.
A century back he made some whiskey money
14,000 shades of green for keeps.
Even risked lynching by posting a sign
reading something like, All welcome,
regardless of race or religion. We might be
catching up to such an act now, but trees
aren’t people. Outside the boundaries
of these volunteers and tags identifying
Weeping Pine and Tupelo Tree,
coal companies, through yet another noose-
hole in the rules are shearing off
the tops of mountains, creating, they say,
new terrain. To the locals with sludge
pouring out their faucets, they say,
We can’t fear change. One of the signs
planted streamside here quotes Leopold’s
We grieve only for what we know.
If he’s right, we know shit. Another slope
of hardwoods and nest sites is right now
down the road going, going. Now
take a breath. Nothing like the smell
of highway in the morning and the evening
and all afternoon. It’s all clear cut
from the air, from the eyes of seven black vultures
floating over. But we don’t fly like that, wings
held out, motionless and moving
over a world holding us up. Our wings
aim straight as rulers full of fire. Technology
will save us, they say. A girl in a window seat
looks down at the scraped earth
with its squiggles of roads,
pressing her cheek against the glass
as those around her flip pages and screens,
doze and wait for a Jack and Coke,
anything to make the coming hours vanish.

Derek Sheffield’s book of poems, Through the Second Skin (Orchises, 2013), was runner-up for the 2012 Emily Dickinson First Book Award and a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. His work has appeared in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, and Orion. He teaches poetry and nature writing at Wenatchee Valley College and serves as poetry editor of
*Photo courtesy of Tatiana Grozetskaya.