The Bones of Dead Trees

I have seen the roots and trunks of trees ripped from the ground,

Piled high and bleaching in the summer sun and winter rain,

Vast funeral pyres when time and the elements have done their work

After the loggers have done theirs.


I have followed the logging trucks along the treacherous road to Shelton,

Over the twisting roads from Pe Ell to Raymond to Aberdeen,

And, empty, of their loads, back to Shelton. 

Seen the signs:  clear cut, 1960; replanted, 1961, and known the trees

Standing straight and tall as lodgepoles were soon to be cut again.


I have been at the ports of Aberdeen and Shelton,

Watching freighters loaded with timber for Japan.

The only value we add is to turn scrap into chip.

The Japanese sell us the paper back—

And I do not mean handmade, for artists and artisans.


I have been in the places you haven’t, loggers’ cabins and trailers

Where any sun that shows and the beauty of the land

Mocks those who live there, with their missing teeth and missing fingers,

Their backs and breasts butchered by surgery for injuries or cancer. 


Some speak of these years as a new Gilded Age, milder than the last.

But as brutal as that one was, it was built by making things.

We spend and get, and spend and get: day laborers from Mexico,

engineers and doctors from India, and just about everything from China.


For I have talked to those you haven’t.

Old men, ruined and broken, working at the end of their lives.

Those who grew up in the shadow of Hanford.

Those who go hungry at the end of the month.

While the country they built is sold off in pieces around them.


And so the meth addicts, weaker than most, more realistic than most,

Steal their neighbors’ identities and assuage their broken souls with

The crystals of melted chemicals that dissolve their teeth and muscles

Long after we lost our own souls in the malls and Wal-marts of America.


Here in these hills, shrouded by fog, the winter rains coming on,

Funeral pyres built from the bones of dead trees bleach white

In the afternoon sun, brief, pale and cool to the skin.

And I pass a trailer, metal stripped from its sides so that

The matted, dirty insulation is exposed to the elements.

In front of it are the rotting carcasses of cars and children’s toys.


14 October 2007


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