Wednesday 21 June 2023

Four Poems by John Brantingham


Butterfly Summer


This monarch must be about the last one

to go this summer, the rest already


headed back south. It will take two

generations to make it back to Mexico


by winter, and this one will die

in a few weeks, the sturm and drang


of her life consisting of the journey

to the middle of the continent.


Mine is here, now, watching her prepare,

working her wings slowly.


She is preparing to climb ten thousand feet

into the sky to catch the jet stream


that will take her to a home she’s never seen.

I’m dreaming of that place too,


a field in perhaps Kansas or Colorado

where she will sleep but others will wake


with the urge to just keep moving.


Orange Summer Newt


This morning, I would crush

the newt on the trail

with my boot heel


except in August

the valley the Allegheny

runs through is a green world,


and everything before my eyes

has been green

and all my thoughts have been green too,


and this newt is orange

and nearly frozen

in the frost of the early day, 


so I turn my boot and move on,

leaving him

but thinking new thoughts,


orange thoughts

all day and

into the cool evening.



Chicken of the Forest


The giant orange mushrooms growing

out of rotting logs are supposed to be

edible and even delicious,


but I’ve never wanted to cut one up

and fry it. I’d rather leave it

here for a bear.


Today, I have apples,

and they’re fine on a cold morning,

standing next


to this one fungal flame of orange

in a green world.

It’s enough to crunch


through one apple and then the next

and remember those days living

in the city


when I would dream of being able

to walk out into the woods by myself

and to have this kind of morning


one that exists without worry,

conversation, or doubt.

I am here now, alone


except for the mushrooms and the bear

I have not seen in a week,

and I watch


my thoughts beyond words

form like a fungus,

growing rich and alive.


Small Columns of Stone


The trail veers off to cross this place

where the stream winds

through the stone ruins of chimneys,


what’s left of the cabins

where people used to rest

on their weeks off in the summer.


Something happened, someone decided

to change the road,

and this place only has the memory of families,


and I know that it is the memory of my people,

aunts and uncles who used to come up

with my grandparents.


All of those people are gone now,

and I did not know them

until they were old,


but I can hear their child voices

in this moment before autumn.

I can hear them call


to their parents.

I can hear their parents laughing

and calling back.

John Brantingham was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines. He has twenty-one books of poetry, memoir, and fiction including his latest, Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press) and Kitkitdizzi (Bamboo Dart Press). He lives in Jamestown, New York.



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