The Learned Pig

Art – Thinking – Nature – Writing

Birch map

Museum: Ursus americanus


Elegy for the Long Married

The yellow birch’s roots reach down, wrap
around the air of a washed-away bank.
Riverstone takes residence in this absence,
and the birch binds its skin across the hard

surface, a stout grip, a wedding of unlike things.
She was a fierce part of his flesh, and we children
thought the knot would never untangle. A fifty-year
flood might knock the rock back into the streambed,

but the river never rose that high in their marriage.
Her hair grew long, like goats walking up hill,
until the tree fell one winter, age and an ice storm
in December. As it does each spring, April’s snowmelt

dispersed the past, and as we searched for morels,
I thought I glimpsed in the current two ghosts
swimming free of each other, a stone and a tree
parting forever at the confluence of this valley.


The Learned Pig


Museum: Ursus americanus

They took our bodies.
Dismembered some.
Displayed paws,
claws, eyes outside
of sockets.

Others they stuffed
and stood on wired
legs. A caricature
of the way we rise
when seeking
the source
of some noise
or clawing a beech
to tell another
about the place
they are entering.

Worse were
the skinned ones.
Bodies suspended
on hooks, pink
muscle exposed.

When we are stripped
of our fur, we look
so much like the ones
who did this.


The Learned Pig



But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know
what your right hand is doing…

Matthew 6:3


On her knees, the woman nuzzles the lamb to her breast,
guides new mouth to ewe’s nipple, lays down in hay
with mother and child. She wakes at two a.m.,
mountain-cold seeping like water into a boulder’s
fissure. In the warmth of her own room, she dreams
of the first wet-flash, streams of blood at the opening.
Unlike the others, this one falters, stumbles sideways
and collapses. At the first hint of light she meets the ewe
at the gate, animal longing for pasture. Her children

are still in bed but will need breakfast in another hour.
She finds the abandoned lamb in a corner and bends
to pick him up, to carry him to the hemlock near the hilltop.
She follows the faint groove of a centuries-old logging road,
knife’s weight in front pocket. Pushing against thigh,
the sheep-child’s head lolls, no strength to hold its weight.
Her left hand strokes the brow and neck, lifts jaw
toward purpled sky, while her right hand brings the stone-
sharpened knife down across the throat.


Image credit: North American distribution map of five species in genus Betula. Data from US Forest Service (2013) and the Canadian Forest Service (2014, 2016). Map by Bill Rankin.


This is part of ROOT MAPPING, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring which maps might help us live with a clear sense of where we are. ROOT MAPPING is conceived and edited by Melanie Viets.


The Learned Pig