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The Afterforest
I.  Malus Coronaria

The outer bark cleaved 
so as to summon
a slug, these oars 

paddling air 
opposite sun. 

in the twisting motion 
of why. The first breath 
clings to morning, 

a bulbous growth. A coat 
of tongues, the color
of still-remaining 

rain, its fleshy antennae
articulating the frozen 
psalm in which 

time, the needle 
of another species, 

Would that self could 
fracture, get rusty,
fall at the level 

of its footprint, the same 
shape as fruit
on more naked, ashy 

bark. The protective bark 
of my own thinking
slowly makes its way 

through the tunnel
into the library 
of unforgotten dirt.

The web appears.
The outer layers flake, exposing 
the bone of inner 

sustenance. I was told
a bear broke the branch 
of this crab apple   

while the tree inside me 
slept. Animal : nothing less 
than person bare

of naming. A body 
scooped open 
curves into arrow, pointing 

to the pine, or vanishes
into weather. This
supposed irregularity,

as if a puckered mouth,
as if the woody eye
that grows within.

II.  Betula Papyrifera

The spectacle 
peels back to reveal
a language with which 
you’ve clothed yourself. 
The long legs of what
was once a spider
lie flat against 
what is, as if 
painted there. 

A pair of black 
rise up from the book
the dirt is writing. 
The serrated past
hangs off you, like errant 
ink, a posthumous
signature. It sways,
renounces part of who 
you were, split 
but still attached 
to living. You ripen
into passageways 
for shifting pockets 
of light. The script, 
a muted orange.

The letters, the leftover 
pieces of night
carry each other 
from right to left.
Like a sail, like a torn
shirt you can’t remove, 
like being stuck and falling
at the same time, like everything
inside the woody cradle, 
the invisible maw
of becoming. The page,
not bleeding, turns
into nectar. 

III.  Thuja Occidentalis

Where light swims 
into the air’s unwritten 
zeroes, the spider 
fuses cedar to clover 
beside the muddy creek.
The way the branches grow
when I close my eyes 
and listen to them. 

The frail pieces 
of mishearing pile up
like diamonds 
in the night and now 
I see more clearly.
I rub my personhood
against the little thorns,
the imperceptible

There, in the crevice
formed by beckoning,
the open cave 
between the not-yet 
branches. Skinny 
amber fingers
push themselves
out in almost perfect
horizontal lines, guided by 
the hum and tick
of chlorophyll 
deep inside. 

Like a body 
weaving itself 
to the earth 
to sip the sun
made softer 
by how the rain 
ignites the green. 
Like sex, sticky
between the seams. 

IV.  Sorbus Americana

The field guide says 
in autumn they mature : the bright 
red congregations,
but all I see is ghostfruit. 
This past weekend, the engine 
of someone else’s war 
walked into a man who
walked into a synagogue. Worship
sends approximations
into sky, gathers
what comes crashing.
The stillness of 
death, so difficult
to enter, ripening.  
The wound collapses
into everyone : planted here.
The act of turning turns 
into a tree whose name 
carries the weight
of unbecoming : ash :
the crawling anthem
of not. Its lean trunk
arches into the larger
pine, where soft green arrows
lick the thicker gray.
The bark like strands
of hair : falling 

Like the words I follow 
a little too far before
turning back : the smoothness
I perceive. A kind of triangle
or nearer friend opens 
its mouth to say : the wound : 
wet and spreading
from a distance.

Brent Armendinger’s most recent book is Street Gloss (The Operating System), a hybrid work of site-specific poetry and experimental translation, featuring Argentinian writers Alejandro Méndez, Mercedes Roffé, Fabián Casas, Néstor Perlongher, and Diana Bellessi, and drawings by Alpe Romero. He is also the author of The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying (Noemi Press), a finalist for the California Book Award in Poetry. He began "The Afterforest" as a daily ritual of sitting with trees at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks. Brent teaches creative writing at Pitzer College and lives in Los Angeles.