The land was, once, just the land you could see; There was no “what I see, and what the map says Is further on” — traveling meant finding someone Only by walking, your footsteps constantly Unraveling each horizon into things You could remember. If you remembered them In order, you would get where you were going: Those pines you remembered every time you saw them, Where you always thought you’d like to stop awhile — Those were the only things like roads, once, There were no paths, and no homes, yet, either. Even so, as far back as you can imagine, I suspect, you’d have found traces of other people, And before them, of God Who walked here Himself And left you a sealed letter in the field with your name on it: “Not to be opened for twenty thousand years.” As it happens, here you find both the letter And the human traces — those pines, for instance, That gave you pause when you walked near them In the snow, when it was evening all afternoon: You sat down beneath and between them (your many layers Allowed you to sit and yet remain warm). You noticed another stand of pine far off, A distant dark green monument across the snowfall. You could give up your place and walk there, But it was likely to be just as comfortable here. The sky was so grey it almost hid itself, So grey you’d almost say you couldn’t see it Even when you looked right up at it. And falling snow gave you that odd, best feeling Of being both on and inside a blanket. The pines Were the quietest of all — quieter, even, than home — Was that not a hint? The letter I spoke of? — And besides, the great calculation was, Whether there was not already someone else In that other clump of pines as well, maybe looking Across at you — probably not though. This is where you’d hate to find a beer can But if you did, you’d just leave it there. It doesn’t fit, at first — you wanted to think You were the only one ever to come here, That this stand of pine is its own new world That will be gone again when the snow stops — But, after a moment, your perspective shifts, All on its own, and the can is a part of it all, As much as anything else there, as much as The dry grass poking through the snow drifts; The same way, you see, the pines themselves Are part of the farm…as is that passing car, with its headlights on.
You can hear an audio production of this poem, which was written for the Howell Creek Radio podcast.