Jennifer Chang
The Lonely Humans

A type of hickory, it grows by water.

So are we fools to drive to the river

the day after our most savage storms

have finally stopped to see

a tree we’ve never seen before?

To hike in cold mud through a leafless forest,

to behold clearings now cluttered

by whatever fell last night—mostly oaks,

no hickory—to attend the mad performance

of a newly roaring current.

I do not want to call it singing,

the wounded poet’s head howling

downriver. Remember we scorned

his broken heart, broken rashly

by himself, some say, for wanting love

too soon. You say I am unfair, that too much

rain is what makes the river rush (there is no “we”

in what you say, dear): we hear it

as mythology. We hear it outside

ourselves, a surfeit of music quickening

wind against winter trees, branch-taps

I mistake for premonitions. Of what? That the tree

is here, ready to spring to life again. I am

unfair. I want to love honestly; I want love

honest. Every tree is the wrong tree.

This is the direction we get lost in.

Beech, sweetgum, more oak. But she

was impatient too, you say, it is possible

she willed him to look back. We do not love alone

is what I think you mean. When I walk behind you,

the back of your head is golden, ungovernable

light I cannot look away from. Is it love

that to follow you I find myself choosing

an unexpected path; should we find the tree,

will it be I who led us there or you? Long gone

are the leaves alternate, compounded, each

an arrow, the thrust of a green thought;

along the forest floor centuries crack and turn

to dust. We have children, grudges,

a Dionysian mortgage, habits

mostly bad, and yet every December

I imagine spring, our time past

and to come, how when you follow me

I track the blazes to reach the river, and often

I have to stop myself from looking back.

To stay together, look away, some god said.

Here in these trees, our voices have no

faces, we’ve walked like this for an eternity.






Found In Volume 50, No. 05
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Jennifer Chang
About the Author

Jennifer Chang is the author of two books of poems, most recently Some Say the Lark, which won the 2018 William Carlos Williams Award and was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award.