The Origin Revisited

illustration with photographs of forest with hill and cloudy sky, text from poem, overlaid with red translucent rectangle on yellow background
Photo-illustration by Gabriela Pesqueira. Source: Randy Beacham / Alamy.

September 10, 2023, 7 AM ET

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— After a visit to the Yaak Valley in Kootenai National Forest, Montana, where the U.S. Forest Service has announced a logging project called Black Ram

What is there to be done now, but enter
              against abandonment, become a hollow sound

in the halo of labyrinthine green, become a crossed-
             out word on the back of someone’s hand.

Once, all of this became

             all of this. One not-yet-golden western larch
curves by a white pine, a white pine

             curves by a western hemlock, no one here
is heroic. To enter here is to enter

magnitude, to feel an ecstatic somethingness,
             a nothingness of your own name.

All words become wrong. A whole world exists
             without us. But who is us?

Lichen, moss, grizzly scat, moose hoofprint like two
             exclamation points by the drying frog pond.

How do you know you’re alive? What evidence
             will you leave? So many myths

are unraveling; a yellow swallowtail glides by over
             the sinless creek bed. A storm

wets the skin and we are surprised we have
             skin. Woods’ rose, white-flowered rhododendron,

nothing here is unfinished. What it gave me? I saw
             a new tree emerge out of a ground made of ancient trees

on top of more ancient trees, on top of more ancient trees,
             on top of more ancient trees, and understood then

that this was how the Earth was made.

This poem appears in the October 2023 print edition.

The Atlantic

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