Karen L. Kilcup


Crows browse like undertakers under ceilings of bronze,
yellow, and late green leaves. The soft generosity of mist
renders invisible visible: the moist canopy outlines trees’ lightness
in heavy air; cobwebs in shrubs forge steely connections transparent
in ordinary light; behind the hedgerow, in damp rising
to our nostrils, leaves rot to dirt trillium-studded in spring.

We tangle in the underbrush of expectations.
Clearing ropes of strangling vines, we separate tasks,
ourselves—one pulls, one bundles; one handles
poison ivy, the other, sumac’s brittle furry bones.
Approving his urge for discipline, you picture
the farmer who cleared our plot, enclosing
his bounds with clean stones hauled by mild oxen—
his walls held the margins together. You work to fill
new gaps, while I reinvent the life lost—
columns of sweet corn tasseling furtive fullness,
pumpkins straining toward orange,
apple trees cascading, fruit ripening,
rotting on the ground. His home,
his wife, were never in order.
You laugh and point to the choking
bittersweet that spirals dead and dying trees,
insect-pocked, woodpecker-pecked, if we cared
to look: homes for squirrel, owl. When the yellow globes burst open,
brittle mouths with swollen orange tongues, they tell
how words embody trees and leaves, creatures
of stick and stone, flesh and bone.

The ground is regularly uneven in this field. The level tops
of grass and weed fringe its furrows, the farmer’s only legacy.
Our neighbors have kindled the year’s first fire, smoke signals linger
above the valley, residue of the blaze within.
Crows caw, plangent in the wordless air between us,
their bodies shiny night. Their eyes black holes
hold captive light.


What the Birch Said

Earth’s the right place for love.
—Robert Frost

Swinging breaks my back.
Black, yellow, white, silver:
I come in many colors,
acknowledge many kin:
alder, hazel, hornbeam.
My sweet sap rivals maples’,
my bark soothes sour stomachs,
my heat cheers cold feet.

I am not yours
to subdue or conquer.
Combing the winter wind,
I long outlive you.
My catkins cast a million seeds:
they make you sneeze and weep.
A pioneer, I feed the forest,
burned or green.
I travel smoothly over water.
Though my roots
are shallow, they split
rock. Unswung,
I bend, not break.


An educator for over forty years, Karen Kilcup has old New England farming roots. She is the Elizabeth Rosenthal Excellence Professor of American Literature, Environmental & Sustainability Studies, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at UNC Greensboro. Her poetry book The Art of Restoration was awarded the 2021 Winter Goose Poetry Prize.