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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, September 6, 2017.
About this Poem 

“Last spring, I had the privilege of being a writer-in-residence as part of the Long-Term Ecological Reflections Program of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon. Time and space are overwhelming in this old-growth conifer forest where the trees are 300, 500 or even 700 years old, rising 250 feet into the sky, and where even the experiments are designed to take two hundred years. And then there are the almost infinite number of small life forms, living with, on, and inside these giants.”
—Ellen Bass

Fungus on Fallen Alder at Lookout Creek

Florid, fluted, flowery petal, flounce
of a girl’s dress, ruffled fan,
striped in what seems to my simple eye
an excess of extravagance,
intricately ribboned like a secret
code, a colorist’s vision of DNA.
At the outermost edge a scallop
of ivory, then a tweedy russet,
then mouse gray, a crescent
of celadon velvet, a streak of sleek seal brown,
a dark arc of copper, then butter,
then celadon again, again butter, again
copper and on into the center, striped thinner
and thinner to the green, green moss-furry heart.
How can this be necessary?
Yet it grows and is making more
of itself, dozens and dozens of tiny starts, stars
no bigger than a baby’s thumbnail,
all of them sucking one young dead tree
on a gravel bank that will be washed away
in the next flooding winter. But isn’t the air here
cool and wet and almost unbearably sweet?

Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Ellen Bass. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass

Ellen Bass is the author of Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014). She currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener

someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got

poem

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’

2
poem

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts