Two Poems

by Lynn Hoffman Issue: Fall 2016 Special Issue on Forests

the modern forest

multiflora rose and garlic mustard fell
on pennsylvania forest dirt.
they crawled and conquered
checkers on the forest’s floor.
the spring azure starves,
the cowslip blanches,
the wood violet shrinks.
will the people, blind in the green plantation,
desperate for sight of nature,
crawl on hands and knees
and hiking boots and dig
the root and hack the spiny vine
until the forest has mastered them?
will they know that without the woods
they die and will they serve it,
groom it, pick its lice,
take its temperature, smell its breath
and beg of it, cry to it:
we worshipped gods, forgive us.
the forest was there, please save us.
or will they not?

Standing Still in the Woods

—for pdn

You know all about this, Peter.
‘Stop on a rock
at the edge of the water, look for a while,
read the stream like the palm of a sucker’s hand’ you said.
So I know you know:
if you want to find out
what’s happening in the woods,
you have to go somewhere in the shade
and stand very still.
In a few minutes, they all stop noticing you
and get back to the business of eating,
and keeping their eyes
on things that matter most.
(the house, the kids, the toothed whatever that wants to eat them)
If you’re not a snake or a worm,
or an owl or an acorn,
they’ll ignore you. 
I'm told that standing still is the way to lure the birds
And that it makes the deer step out into the light
and shows off the gray possums early in the morning
and the foxes around sunset.
You can stand still for bugs and butterflies too.
And who knows what other subtle creatures
That might have cause to be afraid of something.
You stand still to beg for apparitions
To conjure life out of the stillness
To find the apple in the midst of all that dapple.

(some people can’t stand still in the woods.
There are entire nations
who see the woods as a track for speed walking.
They can only learn standing still if you tell them
that it’s strenuous. I once watched Austrian friends
race their way down along the shingle at the edge of the
Danube while I sat on a stump and
waited for a hawk to fish its way along the water.)
It will shiver your liver my friend, to know that
Aging makes you better at standing still.
It’s not just that it’s easier on the bones
-although that counts.
It’s that it takes a while to realize that
there are messages worth shutting up for.
I think a man starts to get really good at this
in his fifties and right now,
when it comes to standing still,
I'm just hitting my stride.

Lynn Hoffman

Lynn Hoffman was born in Brooklyn and lives in Philadelphia. Among his 11 published books are Radiation Days, a comedy about cancer; Short Course in Beer, a very serious but tasty book about ales and lagers; and Philadelphia Poems. He is the founder of Drexel University's Culinary Arts program.