by Margaret Gibson

Once there were women who read books in trees.
I’ve heard it from their own lips,
these stories.
And I was one of them.

I lay back in the Y-branch of a dogwood tree,
sun in the green leaves, a rain of petals
on the grass beneath me.

Once women washed in the watershed rainfall
of streams that tumbled down mountain
and into the plains below.

I knew a woman who dug herself a well, another
who raised rabbits
and killed them clean,
skinned them as I might slip off the winter coat
I no longer need.

Once there were women who worked fields
in the hot sun and afterwards,
their work done, roamed the edges

where field met forest, where at sundown
the deer roused
after dozing for hours
in the chicory and Queen Anne’s lace.

I know one woman who spoke her poems aloud,
standing at the edge of a field
of tall grasses
so that the rabbits and the mice
and the red-tailed hawks

could hear words on the wind. And the wind
rose, and a thunderstorm broke—

she tells how lightning took down an oak
the way she’d take a lover.

Once there were women who fed themselves on roots,
who drank milk straight from the udders
of wild oxen,
who knew herbs and mushrooms,
simples and cures.

These days, if anyone thinks of these women at all,
it’s to dismiss them as primitive,
or pagan, or savage. . .

but I know how they held their bodies as they walked
their just once

on this earth. I know how they wept, and laughed,
how they loved.

Once there were salmon, meadow larks, herds of elk.
Once there were groves of oaks
to pray in.

Once there were avenues of plane trees in the cities.
Once there were words with wings.

Once, when thunderstorms billowed and broke,
the thick heat cleared out,
the air was
rinsed clean.

Once farm, once forest, once field. Once city,
bridge, and tower.

Once, words had roots that entered the deep earth
as a lover might enter a woman.

Once there were women who read books in trees.

Last updated November 03, 2022