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The Planter as Translator

(For W.S. Merwin)

Our fate is that we wish to translate
     What divers plants upon this earth
Have been struggling to divulge to us 
     What they wish for us to decipher
Before we undo the very foothold
     They have grown to offer us
With every hazardous step we take
     From that first halting stumble
As unruly children in some gorgeous garden
     To that desperate lunge we take
As we grab for the last of the reachable rhizomes,
     Caudices, shoots or splayed-out roots
As they loosen from the cliff face
     At the very ends of the island’s mass.

We want to remember how exactly it is
     That we are joined in a cadence
Few of our kind take time to hear
     For plants breathe in as we breathe out
While we breathe in as plants breathe out
     Reminding us how we were born to behave
In reciprocity with such luminous greenery
     Which scrambles up from the poorest, darkest ground
As it reaches for light in the heavens.

Perhaps our trouble has always been
     How we pretend that we began:
Rootless, stuck up somewhere
     In abstract/vacant air
While the vines themselves were beckoning
     Reaching up and urging us
To anchor as firmly as they must surely do
     Securing any fertile ground
Held between barren rock and salty splash---
     Ground that we might find, not by sight
As much as palpable touch or grace
     Instead of our incessant slipping,
Skidding from the narrow trail
     Which opens up but then erodes
Before our bleary eyes.

The trees above us bear silent witness
     To each and every reckless act
Of our careening, acts which leave us
     Further away from what was ours
To never fully know.


– Gary Paul Nabhan

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