Note: A phragmites is the common reed. You'll see their tufts wherever there's wetland: ponds, low meadows, highway ramps.
I felt your step first, squelching in the swamp
I call a heart, the way we call a dawn
Ours. The reed that I was, you found. I woke.
My world was mute in hollow thinness hung
From spindly teeth that chomped a fist of dirt
To the open kilt that swayed, a chinless beard.
In summer’s puddled rain, in winter’s ice,
I clung endurant at the loamy sand.
Tickled by insects, shaken by birds’ flit,
And then snowbent, I flung myself skyward.
All I am was stretch and rustle, and all
The murky wideness we called heart and home
Was stabbed with us like fingerbones held out
To tally up how many reeds were there.
I don’t remember even hearing wind.
It was your hoarfrost-splattered boot that pooled
A little mud beside me, and I stirred,
Wondering what you were and why you came,
Why suddenly my breath was weighted down
And quickened into worried consciousness
Like when a covered sleeper’s ribs are pressed.
It was your wrinkle-broidered gloves that cracked
The outer sheath, that gripped my stalk and tugged.
I shook between the only dreams I knew,
The feather anchor and the earthen tongue.
The penknife’s intimacy snipped my spine
Into a two-eyed stick plucked free of peace.
My lidless spirit gaped at ground and sky.
And it came back to me: the whispering choir,
The taste of soil and light caress of wind,
With simultaneous gratitude and grief.
I am what’s left of what I never knew.
The memory is so strong, so separate,
That once the blade had deftly lessened me
So only my material was reed
And I was renamed “pen”, that once a throat
Of tin was crammed into my bowels
And opened me to page like serf to court,
That once you filled my lung with ink, I sang.