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About this Poem 

"I remember first coming to the Petrified Forest as a very young man and wondering what all the fuss was about. There didn’t seem to be much there. Petrified wood lay everywhere, in greater and lesser amounts, but it just seemed like curious rock. In driving through the area, which is large, however, the more the place began to change before me. It was a drive through time.

The great expanses of northern Arizona are geologic in their scope—human measures are not adequate to understanding them. The Grand Canyon we can “see”—but to see the Petrified Forest, you must use a different set of eyes.

Arizona is a place in which the human imagination is called upon to be complicit in understanding that this desert once was—so magically in this arid place, this very specific place—a forest. 

The openness of this region lends itself to myth, to big story, to the engaged imagination hard at work for centuries in the act of understanding and in trying to see what is profoundly in front of us. In this effort, the desert is full of mirages, which may not be mirages at all but living acts of memory held in common with the earth."
—Alberto Ríos

 

Faithful Forest

 

1.

I will wait, said wood, and it did.
Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, a million—

It did not matter.  Time was not its measure,
Not its keeper, nor its master.

Wood was trees in those first days.
And when wood sang, it was leaves,

Which took flight and became birds.


2.

It is still forest here, the forest of used-to-be.
Its trees are the trees of memory.

Their branches—so many tongues, so many hands—
They still speak a story to those who will listen.

By only looking without listening, you will not hear the trees.
You will see only hard stone and flattened landscape,

But if you’re quiet, you will hear it.


3.

The leaves liked the wind, and went with it.
The trees grew more leaves, but wind took them all.

And then the bare trees were branches, which in their frenzy
Made people think of so many ideas—

Branches were lines on the paper of sky,
Drawing shapes on the shifting clouds

Until everyone agreed that they saw horses.


4.

Wood was also the keeper of fires.
So many people lived from what wood gave them.

The cousins of wood went so many places
Until almost nobody was left—that is the way

Of so many families.  But wood was steadfast
Even though it was hard from loneliness.  Still,

I will wait, said wood, and it did.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Alberto Ríos. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by Alberto Ríos. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos

Born in 1952, Alberto Ríos is the inaugural state poet laureate of Arizona and the author of many poetry collections, including  A Small Story about the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). In 1981, he received the Walt Whitman Award for his collection Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982). He currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s

poem
The wine of uncharted days,
Their unsteady stance against the working world,

The intense intoxication of nothing to be done,
A day off,

The dance of the big-hearted dog 
In us, freed into a sudden green, an immense field:

Off we go, more run than care, more dance—
If a polka could be done not in a room but
poem
We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And